Caroline Horton

Caroline Horton is a theatre-maker, writer and mentor who has frequently addressed mental health through her work; she is currently doing an MSc in Integrative Psychotherapy at Warwick University. 

Caroline’s breakthrough 2012 show, Mess, was based on her own experiences of anorexia and recovery, and was created with support from artist well-being practitioner Lou Platt. Her work since then includes All of Me (the possibility of future splendour), an acclaimed show about depression that premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019, winning the Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health Fringe Award as well as The Stage Award for Excellence.

We interviewed Caroline in February 2024 as we were developing our Performing Anxiety resource.

You’ve described Mess (2012) as your first mental health show. What did you learn from that experience?

The show I’d made before that was very different, so Mess felt like a big risk and a big departure for me. I hadn’t really come across work that was very personal. I’d seen some of Bryony Kimmings’ early shows and the first show that I’d made was about my grandmother, so I was already drawing on stories that I kind of held in me somehow. But I hadn’t come across work in the theatre world that was autobiographical and about a person’s mental health. I could see it in the visual art world. I could see obviously in the more performance art end of stuff. I was a bit like, ‘I think maybe this isn’t the done thing’. But I couldn’t quite get it out of my head as a project that I wanted to do. 

I had a sense that Mess needed to be an ensemble show. I wanted it to be about my experiences, or a person’s experiences, of eating disorders, but one of the things I was most interested in was how the people around them cope – what you say, what you don’t say, what gets said, how impossibly awkward and such a mess the situation is in terms of the relationships around the illness, and that felt like very much part of the illness itself. 

And so I got together Hannah Boyde, Seiriol Davies and Alex Swift. Alex, I’d known for a long time, Hannah, I knew more recently, Seiriol I hadn’t met before, but I was after someone who could improvise musically. This was just instinct and what was beautiful about this little pot of money was that it didn’t matter if it was a terrible idea because no one would have made any big commitment. And then we got really interested in it, and this kind of clown language started to develop. We were constantly encountering this kind of meta theatrical situation where it was my material, these guys were having to ask questions about the material, then we were trying to do improvisations and improvisations are often really bad, right? So we were then doing really bad improvisations about this incredibly personal stuff, which would then have an effect on me. And sometimes those improvisations would then grind to a halt. So we got really interested, I think, in this kind of tangly, meta theatrical, clowny, absurd, and then sometimes very difficult emotional territory that this seemed to be straddling, and it kind of went on from there. 

In terms of well-being, there were things we did right from the beginning, entirely by accident. We did lots of things wrong as well, but I was really interested to talk to some experts from the eating disorder treatment and recovery field. We ended up working with a brilliant woman, Professor Ulrike Schmidt, who’s a real leader in the field. She’s based at (mental health training institution) the Maudsley and King’s College, and she’s incredible. And because she’s so incredible, she’s also very busy. But what this meant was she would pop in at certain points or have a quick meeting with us but her PhD students who were also completely immersed in this eating disorder world, and had a bit more time, got really involved. They were in the rehearsals with us at various points. Alex, the director, got them doing improvisations with us, but I guess the point was that from the beginning we had this ‘outside the theatre world’ eye on it, feeding back about what the audience experience might be. 

Interestingly at various points we noticed that we, the performers or the creatives, were pulling back on something. And they were like, ‘no, no, no, it’s much worse than that. You can go for it, this is really important, don’t worry about making us uncomfortable, I want to be uncomfortable at this point.’ And so they just became this external resource and incredibly supportive as well. And the fact that they were so willing to give their time and were so supportive of the project meant we were able to go, ‘okay, I think this has value, I think it might give people access to an experience that is either incomprehensible to them, and is affecting someone they know, or is affecting them and is very, very hard to express. And that’s what we kept coming back to when we were like, ‘Oh, my God, what are we doing?’

And then the things we got a bit wrong were that I don’t think we realised maybe it’s the unconscious effects of sitting with stuff, day after day, either for me sitting with that stuff again, or for Hannah, the other performer who kind of plays the people around my character Josephine, plays people around the sufferer, the guilt and the struggle and the feelings of helplessness that I guess that are constantly being engaged with. I don’t think we at all understood the sort of toll that can take. 

And so a woman called Lou Platt, who now runs the Artist Wellbeing Company, is a psychotherapist by training and also a maker, and she had this sort of crossover of these two worlds, so very much understood the artistic process, but also had this therapist training. And she had done some work with a company we knew in Birmingham and we asked her if she might come on board to support the company’s wellbeing. We’d already done the Edinburgh run, and we’d only realised that it could cause problems after we’d done a long run of it, and it was just that bits of my behaviours around food were becoming more problematic, not to the extreme that they had been before, but they were definitely at play again. And I don’t think it’s necessarily that the play caused that, it’s just, I think, I’d been in those  with those various forms of eating disorders for such a long time that choosing to re-enter the story was a risk, I guess. And also things like not knowing how quite how to deal with audience responses, or Q & As. 

And so Lou came in and apart from offering support to the group and support to individuals, she also supported us to set up some structures. So we would always check in at the start of rehearsals and  before shows. And we also learned to put boundaries in place, especially me, around what I felt comfortable answering or not in a Q&A, because suddenly you’re in this weird place where, because you’ve told your story, it’s like, ‘oh, she’s fine to talk about any of it.’ And I hadn’t recognised that. I’d made a piece of work and I felt once it was done, it sort of existed in its own right. But then to have people sometimes…. the questions were fine, but there were just certain moments where somebody’s got (a question), maybe because it was part of their experience, or they were asking about if I’d been suicidal. And it was in quite a public forum. Moments like that really threw me because they weren’t contained or translated into the work, it was suddenly just public chat. And so gradually, with Lou we kind of learned about how to put boundaries around those ‘not show’ bits, and also mechanisms to lead us into the show, and lead us out of the show.

What would be an example of that? How would you set a boundary around a Q&A?

To be honest, it was as simple as me practising some responses if a question came up that I didn’t feel comfortable answering, rather than feeling like, ‘Oh, hold on, I really should, because these people came to see the show where I told them this very personal story, I’ve set up this expectation.’ I feel like there’s an important thing around being open around mental health, so I was feeling all that pressure, but I just had to reflect that, actually, this is different, I’m not in control here. And so I just learned to say, ‘actually, I don’t feel comfortable answering that question in this forum, you can email us,’ because then I’d be able to consider it, or I’d be able to reflect with Lou about it. 

I think the other thing that I didn’t realise before we went up to Edinburgh was what it would feel like to have work reviewed when it’s both the piece of work that you’ve made and it’s autobiographical, because that was my first experience of that. And I think it was harder than I admitted while I was in Edinburgh, and I did quite a lot of burying myself. It was 2012, and the Olympics was on, and I would do a lot of just going back to the flat and watching the Olympics, which I was really grateful for because it felt completely disconnected from the Edinburgh bubble. 

The show went really well, better than we’d ever expected this sort of odd show about anorexia to go, and it sold well, and there were really interesting discussions around it, but there was particular stuff that came up about whether or not it was responsible and that really worried me, because we had taken a lot of care around the decisions we’d made. And of course, some people were going to disagree with those decisions. And we were taking the risk to use humour, because we thought really carefully about how I really wanted people who didn’t get it to feel like they had access to the show. And so it felt really important that there was warmth and connection with these characters, even though what we were talking about was really hard stuff. And then also the situations that I would describe – you know, moments of not being able to eat, and then someone else eating my food for me, for example, or someone wanting to avoid the subject – it all had this quality of the absurd. But I was really concerned, really questioning ‘have I been responsible?’ Am I looking after people in this? Is the intention behind this still solid? And ultimately, I felt like yes, it was, but it still felt hard to be in the eye of that storm, I think especially in Edinburgh, because it’s such a little bubble. 

What was the argument for the show not being responsible?

There was quite a swirl of debate around it being sort of made… I think the phrase was “pink and fluffy”. I guess our intention was to strike a balance between it being accessible to people like my dad, who had gone through watching his kid starve herself, and not understanding at all what was going on, so we had audience members like that in our heads, but we also wanted sufferers to feel understood. We were very careful. I didn’t want any numbers in it, for example, you know, I didn’t want weights in it. I didn’t want particular diet tactics that had become obsessions for anyone with that sort of condition. And so being in a place of abstraction also felt really important for us. 

But yeah, that’s what the debate ended up being around, that it wasn’t hard hitting enough or something. And I guess the thing I could always come back to was I was very clear what my intentions were – my choices around it. We intended to experience the journey with its hardness, but it was also a hopeful story. We were aware we were treading this line.  

Just thinking about the company wellbeing element, I think it wasn’t so much that that the debate was about. But being in Edinburgh, in the pressure cooker that it is, and experiencing people talking about theatre critically where it’s also your story, I hadn’t realised how vulnerable that can make you. So it was after that that we were like, right, if we’re going to tour this we’ve got to get better at knowing how to, because it started to feel like it was unsustainable. The point of the show was to get people having more robust, more open conversations, we wanted to take it to schools, we developed workshops with the experts that we’d been working with. There were loads of Q&A days, and we were working with an eating disorder charity, so there was all this cool stuff happening. But we were starting to think, okay, we have to look after the company better. And Lou came in.

You’ve described Lou as having become integral to your creative process since you started working together on Mess. What did you mean by that?

It was just that, each show that I then went on to make, I was like, ‘I think there’s a place for her here’. She wasn’t involved with Islands, interestingly, and that would have been really helpful. I was like, ‘hey, this one’s about tax, everyone will be fine’, and actually there was such a furore around Islands. I think, across the two runs, one in London, one in Edinburgh, we got between one and five stars. 

So again, the company were just in this furore. I’m always amazed how angry people can get about theatre. We had big sections of the audience leaving. It’s all sort of hilarious anecdotes now, and ‘God, isn’t it fascinating’. And I am fascinated by it, but honestly, at the time it was really hard. And, in hindsight, she’d have been really useful to help us process. 

I think that’s the thing. Whatever is going on, it’s having a space and being able to engage with your process, “What is going on in me as a result of doing this show? What is going on in me as a result of these reviews? Or is there a dynamic being set up within the company as a result of these roles that we’re in?” You know, having somewhere to be reflective about that stuff, rather than just being in it, is a magic thing.

It’s interesting hearing you talk about Islands being so divisive. Obviously Mess created some debate, but generally it was very well received by critics. Did that make it easier?

I think it must have done. I think it would have been much harder had it also gone ‘badly’ – I’m wiggling my fingers in inverted commas because what is a success or failure is always very fudgy, I think. Islands was the hardest experience because lots of people were like, ‘this is a terrible piece of work, this is just really bad.’ And it’s not that I necessarily agree with that summation of Islands, but that was what was going on. Whereas with Mess there were dissenters, they were critics of it, but there was also a big body of support for it. So yeah, it would definitely have been much harder had that not been the case.

I’d like to spend a bit of time talking about All of Me (pictured above – photo by Ed Collier), which was an extraordinarily powerful and brave piece of work. There’s a certain kind of show about mental health which tends to be a ‘recovery’ narrative, whereas All of Me isn’t that, it’s about someone who’s in the middle of depression and the intensity of that. I always imagined that it must have been a very challenging show to make and that working with someone like Lou must have been important.

What was great was there was this relationship with Lou by that point, but it actually took me ages to work out what I wanted to make. I didn’t start out going, ‘I’m going to make a show about depression’, I think I had one of those moments – which I think just come round every now and again, I think they’re quite important, even though they’re sort of tricky – of going, ‘I don’t know if I need or want to make another show. I don’t know if I have anything to say, in this way, or for now, or whatever.’ 

And so I ended up working with Alex, who directed Mess, and with a collaborator, Lucy Hopkins, and we just kind of experimented. So it was more about the kind of exercises we put in place, like there was loads of free writing, Lucy and I did lots of kind of physical, very sort of simple clown stuff, really going back to that, and seeing what came out. And then there was this kind of process – but Lou was still part of this, she was there for me, I would go to her and talk about where the work was going and so that structure was there – and then, I guess, particularly with Alex, we sort of looked at what the bits of work we’d made like the images or there was loads of song and poetry right from the beginning. And it was in pieces, there was no through line, there wasn’t anything seemingly connecting much of it. 

And then I also started developing the work at spoken word nights, which is not something I’d done before then. I’d made friends with a bunch of brilliant poets from that scene in Birmingham. So I’d been along to stuff, but I never felt like it was my place. I loved it. But I started taking little chunks of the show that I’d written to those nights and loving doing it in that context. And I think it grew, that spirit of the show, that it was in fragments and that there was a lot of, if not poetry, kind of poetic text in it, texts that didn’t feel like normal speech and then kind of melted into song. 

And so I guess the story, the loose story, developed around this sort of state that I was in or coming out of where I was like, ‘Why am I doing theatre? What does it mean for me? Why am I still here? Who am I doing this for? And the sort of absurdity again of it. Like what do I think I’m doing? This is bonkers? 

And then what maybe I realised was a connection – it seems so obvious to say it, but I don’t think I had realised it – between my episodes of depression, you know, not being able to get out of bed, not wanting to do anything, etc, suicidal thinking, depression, and just my sort of normal being in the world or my connection with theatre, that there is this sort of absurdity, to it all that we kept coming up against, this kind of asking why, like, what are we doing, and me sort of for the first time reading about depression as an expression of the human state of being in the world. And I started to find it a bit more reasonable than I maybe ever had, not that I wanted to be in that extreme version of it, but through the process of kind of working out what this show was saying about my response to the world, it also started to talk about my experiences of depression, which I seem to have a cycle of every two or three years. I have a particularly hard spell of it for a few months, for whatever reasons. But it was sort of really interesting to us and definitely to me that it kind of emerged that that was what it was about, because I didn’t start out to make a show about depression. But I think it came, it started to become ‘hold on, this is just my response to being in the world.’ And sometimes there’s a rebellion to that. Sometimes there’s cowering from it, sometimes there’s a sort of joy at the absurdity of existence. So it sort of contained all of that. 

And then what happened was, we’d made a version of it the previous summer but we hadn’t got all the funding we needed so we delayed going up to the (Edinburgh) Fringe for a year. And in that year, I had another bad episode of depression earlier in the year. And I was just emerging from it when we were going back into the room and I just had this really strong feeling. I don’t know how true this is for other people necessarily, but there’s a period for me when I’m crawling back out of that place where I’m much more in touch with the – excuse my language – the ‘not giving a shit’ bit of me. Because of the place I’ve just been, I don’t quite know what it is but it’s quite a powerful moment. It doesn’t last, but I was kind of in that moment when we were going back into the making room, which was sort of wonderful and felt slightly dangerous. Because I went back in feeling unbothered by this very clear need to do a massive rewrite. And loads of the elements that had been in there before were there. But the way they were put together was really different, and the spirit with which they were put together. 

So stuff like the opening, which is absurd, it’s very darkly funny, but it is funny, there wasn’t a funny in it before. And suddenly, again, maybe because of the place I’d just been in, I was like, this cannot feel exactly like depression, and I think a previous version did. This has to be me making art about it. There has to be a bit more separation between me and the thing that I am creating. 

And so I think I just gave myself loads of permission because of this place I was in. And as I say loads of the show was still there. But I also kicked out stuff that I didn’t want. And actually, again, I’m always so interested in these meta theatrical layers that, if a show has that, I’m really drawn to that. But this layer develops where, of course, because my version of this stuff tends to be in cycles, I think it is for a lot of people, you know, crawling back out and then you know, things are more stable for a bit and then things get trickier, and actually being honest about that and honest about the fact that this show was being remade, and there’s this layer now that doesn’t really fit with this layer because we’re remaking it because I had another depression, it felt like it did a lot of the storytelling as well about my – and, I think, lots of people’s – experience of it. And a thing that I felt really interested in expressing because as you say, I really didn’t want a recovery story because I haven’t experienced that. Like, most of the time life is great and ridiculous and a mix of all the things of hard and whatever. But yeah, I wanted the show to be about me making a bit of peace with that. That was where the hope from that show sat. Because I feel like it is a hopeful show. But also I allowed it to be much darker than anything I’d made before, I think.

How do you balance performing a show about being mentally unwell with not becoming mentally unwell again?

It’s interesting, and I don’t know whether it’s because of the work I’ve done on myself, also the work I’ve done with Lou. In the making of Mess there were definitely moments where I was like, ‘oh I think I’m struggling more because of making this’, you know. Maybe that was about not having the support in place and not realising I needed it at that time. But with All of Me there was that support in place. There were bits of the making process that were really, really hard. Like, there was a point where we just gone back into the making after I’d been really unwell again. So this is in the run up to Edinburgh. And we’d agreed, as you often need to do with these things, to do a sharing of where we were at. But I was literally in the middle of rewrites, massive rewrites, and no one had planned, including me, for this to be the stage the show was at. So it was really not appropriate for me to have to do that. But I hadn’t twigged that. Again, it was about boundaries. 

But I think for me anyway, I often don’t know these things are the wrong thing to do until I’m stood in the middle of it going, ‘I don’t want to be doing this.’ And that was the one moment where it felt really shit and hard. I was quite shaken by that experience. And I just stopped in the middle and said, ‘I’m not going to read anymore’ and we sent everyone home. I felt like I had really messed up and that I’d failed and that I didn’t know what I was doing. And actually all I needed was to have gone, ‘hold on this isn’t useful right now.’ The point of a sharing has to be that it’s useful. And then, you know, if there’s something around stakeholders needing to be let into a process, that can be done in different ways, it doesn’t have to be this exposing at this moment. 

And so that was the only big wobble really in that making process, in terms of me feeling like, ‘ah that wasn’t good for my mental health’. And then I suppose as well with the show, when it came to performing it, what I guess I realised we’d built was a kind of gentle slope into the show or maybe down into the show, and then a gentle climb out. So at the beginning we have this kind of bonkers, almost stand-up gone wrong monologue, which is most of the time… sometimes I would hit it a bit wrong, and it would come out a bit angry, but most of the time I had a real pleasure doing it, it was funny, when there was a real complicity with the audience around that stuff it felt there was sort of a wicked joy to it. And I think that allowed us together to move into the straightforwardly dark stuff that follows. And then on the way back out there’s loads of song at the end. And there was something very instinctive about needing that there, but it was so helpful for me and audiences as a little bit of a ladder out the other side, so that hopefully neither them nor me were left just floating around in the gunk.

Are you saying you partly structured the show for the sake of your own well-being in performing it? 

I think mostly accidentally, but when we had done it we recognised that it was useful, and therefore we stuck with it. It wasn’t that I went, ‘Oh, I know what we need to do, we need a funny bit at the beginning and lots of music at the end.’ But when it happened like that, it felt kind of deeply right.

Since then mental health has become quite a big part of your work, and you’ve even begun training as a counsellor. What made you decide to do that?

I think the thing that makes most people want to train as therapists or counsellors is probably that they’ve had therapy or counselling, and they were like, ‘Oh this stuff’s good’. Aside from that, mentoring is quite a big part of my work and that started in 2014 after Mess, I guess. A lot of the people I was working with were making autobiographical work and I just realised, through working with them and loving doing it, I was holding quite a lot of stuff that I maybe wasn’t trained to hold. But I was also curious about how much does my own stuff inform the help that I offer to other people. How much am I able to listen to what it is that they’re wanting to make, and how much do I impose myself on it? 

So I started getting curious about all this stuff, and was just like, I think I’m just going to do a short counselling course and it’ll maybe give me some skills I’m feeling that I’m missing. And so I did that in 2017, and then went back to some more training in 2021. I did a year’s foundation course with the Tavistock, and I’m now in my first year of the proper chunk of it. It’s very part time but I’m doing an MSc in psychotherapy at Warwick, which I’m loving and sort of staying curious about what that will mean. I’m still working at the moment, mostly writing and dramaturging and mentoring. But yeah, I’m curious what it will do to my practice, if I continue to have a practice or whether I’ll move into that field. But I sort of feel like I’ve got three and a bit years of quite a lot of hard work and essay writing to work that out. 

What advice do you tend to give people who are wanting to make work about mental health?

It’s really variable, depending on where they’re at. I hope what I do is really listen and help encourage them to really listen to themselves in terms of what they want to do. What do you want to do? Why do you want to do this? And it’s okay not to have that answer straight away. But I think gradually working that out can sort of really save your bacon, because if criticism is levelled at you, or if the project just starts going off track for you, it gives you your compass, It’s like, why am I doing this and is it still doing what I want it to do? 

So, you know, with Mess, it ended up being like, I want people to be able to have more robust, open conversations around this stuff that we don’t feel able to talk about around eating disorders. And I felt like, you know, in an imperfect way, we did do that with that show. And so I think find the heart of it, and what you’re trying to do, and then I would say draw up your dream process and see how much of that you can have. And that might be having therapy sessions once a week, that might be only doing half days and part weeks. And it might be about thinking, okay, my team, I want people I know really, really, well and also some new people, you know, but maybe you want the support of people who’ve known you for ten years or whatever. 

In my process, I need work in progress performances because they drive it. But when it comes to this kind of stuff, really think about how you contextualise those shows and what support you need. Do you need to make the director go on stage and do the apology for you about how not ready it is and warn the audience? Think about this stuff because I feel like when you make autobiographical shows, and especially stuff about mental health, you do kind of double vulnerability. So anybody who’s made a show and gone on stage knowing they haven’t quite finished it and they’re going to be judged anyway because of course you are, it’s just the way it is, you’re vulnerable. But I think when you add exposing your inner world, and the stuff that you really struggle with as a person, I think you’ve got a double process going on, you’ve got ‘me as a performer’ and ‘me revealing my inner workings as a human being’. 

And I think taking what might feel like extreme steps to look after that is always valuable. Ultimately, I think what I’ve discovered – and definitely through doing All of Me – is that if you take care, you probably take more risks, risks you want to take, but you know, there were bits of All of Me that I don’t think I could have done without the structures and the kind of scaffolding in place that I had, in terms of wellbeing. The wellbeing scaffolding.

When you first started working with Lou, were you aware of other people working with wellbeing practitioners?

No. As I think I mentioned we’d come across Lou because I knew her as a theatre-maker. I knew she also worked as a therapist, but it was this work she’d done where she was sort of integrating her practices in, or at the beginning of that process. She’d worked with a company in Birmingham around how they were collaborating with each other. I think they’d been together a really long time and they were looking at where they were at. But I hadn’t come across anyone working with someone like that on a show.

It seems more like standard practice now, as well as other things you mentioned, like therapy, or longer rest days. There’s more thought going into that now.

Yeah, I think we’re getting a little bit better about just realising…. I think it’s a really tricky thing within the industry, how unhealthy some of the practices are. I remember collaborating with a director from Spain, who could not believe how relentless tech week was when we got into it. And I was like, oh, this is just normal. He was like, it’s inhuman. What do people do? What if they’ve got families? What if you’ve got to pick a kid up at three o’clock? And I was like, well, you can’t do tech week. And that’s bonkers. But a bit like those eating disorder experts on the outside, it’s not until someone from outside the world comes in and goes ‘What are you doing? Does it have to be like this?’, you know… and I think we are slowly getting better at kind of questioning some of that stuff. It always used to be just this stupid ‘the show must go on’ stuff. And it just mustn’t. It doesn’t need to. It can if you want but screw that, it’s not worth it. And I think that feels like quite a recent shift. 

It’s become a slogan actually, ‘the show mustn’t go on’ or variations on that. I just have one more question. After lockdown, and all the mental health focused work you’d done what was it like going back to performing All of Me?

It was really weird. Because we’d not only had a lockdown, I’d also had a baby. Like quite a lot of performers, who were like ‘oh, oddly we’re suddenly pregnant because we stopped for five minutes’, So my world had (changed) completely, we’d moved house. I know for a lot of people there’s kind of before and after COVID, but I think I felt that very strongly because of how much other stuff had shifted. Also when I started performing All of Me I realised I was pregnant again. So I was gradually getting bigger when I did actually tour it, and it’s an extraordinary show to perform pregnant because I was talking about the moments in my life where I’ve not wanted to be alive, and there I am holding another life within me. 

So what we decided to do was accept that it was a show I’d made it before the pandemic, and before becoming a mum. Because we loved it. I’m sort of thinking of me and Alex and our conversations around what we were gonna do, because we had a lot of conversations about it, and we were like, okay, well, we could make a new show about the same stuff but from the point of view of where we are now, but neither of us wanted to do that because we loved the show and felt like it did what we wanted it to do. And we still felt excited about it, I still felt like I was finding new stuff in it. 

And so I rewrote the beginning, to a degree that acknowledged the pandemic, and that I was going, ‘Oh, this is weird to do now, I don’t know how this is going to go.’ And I acknowledged that I was pregnant as well. And so we just invited the audience to accept it from the context in which it was made, but it was different, it was definitely different.

Last year, for the first time since that period before making the show, I had another mental health crisis, but it had a really different quality, because of being a mum, you know, there were certain things that felt off the table, like lying in bed lots. And this feeling of, how do you look after that stuff? And how do I get myself into a place of recovery whilst I’ve got a baby and a toddler? And so all of that was kind of present with the show. I’d already started asking those questions. I’d already talked to the director a lot about his own experiences. And so it was super different. But I was really glad to be on stage again. I didn’t know if that would be the case. But I was.

Were you worried about it pulling you back into a dark place?

No, it wasn’t, I think, because I have less of a problem once I’ve got the support structure in place. And once the show is finished, I think I’m in much less danger of that because it feels like a finished, separate thing. The main challenge on tour was that I had horrible morning sickness, and so it was kind of a physical challenge at that point. But no, I didn’t feel that. Again, because we built this thing (the structure of the show) where we had this lead in and this lead out, and also partly because I didn’t want to be away from the one and a bit year old very much, the touring was much more spread out. So the touring also felt different in that way. But yeah, even when I was performing it in Edinburgh, and there was that relentless day after day, I felt well. 

So I don’t know, I think that’s partly because of the structures we’d put in place but also that feeling of, for me at least, when a thing is finished, yes, I descend into it, but it exists as a separate thing for me. And I think for me that’s a lot harder in the making process, because you haven’t made the thing yet, and you’re digging around in the self and the stuff, whereas when I’ve translated it into a piece of art, yes, it’s a part of me, but it does exist over there, you know.  I can talk about the work of art, it’s almost a vehicle for something, it’s like a way of me almost separating from some of the experience or at least reflecting on it in a different way a bit like you do when you you’re in therapy, you know, you put this stuff in between you and another person, and you kind of look at it, and you don’t necessarily solve anything, but it means you’re looking at it, you’re not just in it. And I think there’s a quality of that, for me, when I’ve finished a piece of work. I can look at it and talk about it, reflect on it in a way that maybe I couldn’t before I’d made it.

That’s really interesting. There’s always been a parallel between making art and the kind of therapeutic process but perhaps the performing of the finished thing, and the separating of you from it, perhaps that’s the therapeutic part, when you can put it somewhere else.

And also, like All of Me says, it’s sort of what I really believe. Definitely for me and for other people I know – and I’m saying that because I know it’s not just my experience, but I’m sure it isn’t everyone’s experience – it’s not necessarily good for me not to have relationship with those tricky parts of myself. I need to be in relationship with them because otherwise they get louder. So there’s also a way that, once the show is finished, revisiting that stuff in a way that has form, a way that I’m in control of, again is a bit like therapy. Therapy has all these structures around it – you go in, you have your time of the week, it’s 50 minutes, there’s no duality to the relationship. The relationship is therapist client, you pay your money, you’ve signed a contract, all those things, that kind of boundary. With this work, there’s a version of it once the thing is made. I suppose there’s even a version of it when you’re in rehearsals, but it tends to be a lot messier and fuzzier in my experience. But when it’s finished, you can encounter that tricky stuff but you encounter it in a way where you’re less of a victim of it, is I think how I experience it. 

And there’s also something I think about a feeling – and it’s only ever a guess – that when I’ve put something like Mess or All of Me out in the world there might have been conversations, or someone feeling able to be more open about something, or someone bringing someone (to whom) they couldn’t find the words to express along to see the show. Those little moments, when I do hear about them happening, they feel really valuable.