A Collection of Plays Exploring Mental Health Issues in Today’s Society
By Louise Stokes
Key Themes: prose, plays, relationships, love
1. THE ORDER OF DISORDER
Through the use of dialogue, soliloquy, physical theatre, imagery, and some moments of stark humour, the ‘Order of Disorder’ presents a woman’s attempts to examine her eating difficulties and explore the possible reasons behind her illness, making extensive use of stylised theatre with a poetical thread running through.
“This is a sensitive and moving account of a young woman’s problems with anorexia. I can see it being used to great effect in drama therapy work. It rang very true, particularly the
‘lunch’ monologue. In fact, I’d imagine that that would stand alone very effectively.
The rest of the play is also convincing and I’m sure that it could be staged so that it made its point.
You have a fascinating story to tell – full of drama and conflict.”
Stagecoach Report Form, The Rep, Birmingham developed and performed as part of the author’s final project during her HND in Community Theatre, the piece has since been commissioned for several other performances, both as a performance of the complete play, and ‘Lunch’ as a stand alone monologue.
MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES COVERED: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia, Dysmorphia
AN OUTLINE FOR A DIFFERENT IDEA FOR THEATRE
This play aims to challenge societal perceptions, attitudes and expectations of what women today are supposed to yearn for or feel they should attempt to attain. Using caricatured, larger-than-life characters whose behaviours at times verge on ‘theatre of the absurd’, this darkly humorous piece incorporates satire, fantasy, music and song, along with strong visuals to accompany dialogue which makes social comment on themes prevalent in Western culture today. The ludicrous and bizarre nature of the piece is juxtaposed with a serious look at how many women in modern society believe that success and happiness lie in the moulding of ourselves into a perceived acceptable or even perfect physical form….a form which we can pay for, if we have the means. For this reason, the surreal theatrical style of the piece is intended to reflect the ridiculous assumptions we make about how we can attain happiness in this way; a dogged, superficial, plastic, insincere cheeriness about getting what we want by whatever methods we can…whilst not far beneath the surface lurks the dark despair that arrives once we find that money and plastic surgery and the perfect body do not in themselves necessarily bring the happiness and perfection that myriad members of today’s society seem to crave …for others as much for themselves. The use of comedy, both zany, and at times dark, is used in this piece as a vehicle to quickly engage an audience and draw them into the content of the play. Thus one hopes that they will be given the opportunity to ask themselves some questions about serious issues whilst remaining entertained and inspired by means of a refreshing approach to an innovative piece of theatre.
MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES COVERED: Body Image, low self-esteem and poor sense of self
A mother and her grown up daughter, having experienced bonding difficulties at birth, now continue to have communication difficulties and an uncomfortable relationship. The daughter’s own childhood experiences of parenting have left her feeling unprepared and reluctant about having a baby of her own. This play explores some of the immediate and consequent longer-term effects of mother and baby bonding difficulties through the conversations between mother and daughter and the monologues they, and the nurse present at the birth, address directly to the audience.
MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES COVERED: Mother/child bonding issues, dysfunctional family relationships, post-natal depression
4. GROWING PAINS
Developed from a piece originally commissioned by Dudley Health Promoting Schools, ‘Growing Pains’ explores some of the attitudes, beliefs and myths around healthy eating and it’s effects on physical and mental health and well being. The audience first meets Angelica, Bobby Jo, Atlantis and George in primary school as they eat their packed lunches together during the school lunch break. As the four friends progress through adolescence and into adulthood, the audience follows their journeys and is given an insight into how each of their individual lifestyles affects the quality of their lives, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Following the performance of the original short version of the play at Dudley Town Hall as part of a Dudley Health Promoting Schools Event, the play was subsequently requested by and delivered to professionals at a number of Healthy Schools Conferences. The author developed the piece in order to explore the longer term and more complex effects of the lifestyles we choose to lead. The piece is suitable for all ages as an entertaining, visual and humorous look at how children, adolescents and adults view diet, eating and living a holistically quality life in today’s society. Performed in a style similar to ’Blue Remembered Hills’, the attitudes and some of the misconceptions aired within the drama reflect those of today’s children and adults with a view to opening up the issues explored for further discussion.
MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES COVERED: General lifestyle and its effects on health from a holistic perspective. ADHD, anxiety and stress, depression, eating disorders, poor self-esteem
5. YOUTH OF TODAY
This humorous play explores issues surrounding challenging behaviours often exhibited by adolescents in today’s society, a society which we might consider itself a challenging one in which to live, and the attempts of health professionals and parents to put them into some context which they might understand. The deliberately comical style of the characters is not a reflection on the real life groups of people they represent, but rather a satirical look at the legacy left to our society by those in positions of power over the last two or three decades.
MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES COVERED: Adolescent challenging behaviours, risk taking, low self-esteem
6. TURN AROUND
Using comedy and drama, this play highlights some very real issues prevalent in our mental health service today based on an original commission by Sandwell Mental Health Trust, as a performance piece to be delivered on a regular basis by the author and fellow members of Fizzog Theatre Company this training awareness play for managers working in mental health trusts, is intended to be used as a piece of forum theatre. The process entails replaying the scenes of the initial performance, at which point the audience is offered the opportunity to change any behaviours displayed by the characters which they, the audience, feel are unacceptable or inappropriate. This may be done by either instructing the actors to change or by replacing the actor who is behaving unacceptably with volunteers from the audience so that he or she can be ‘shown’ how he or she could conduct themselves in a more helpful way for all concerned. Although the scenarios in this play are fictionalised pieces of drama, they have all been created as a result of extensive research within the nhs mental health services. As well as using her experiences as a former psychiatric nurse working within the nhs mental health system, the author spoke with health professionals ranging from assistant director of nursing to domestics, clinical and non-clinical staff, as well as service users, service user advocates, family members and carers. The consequent scenarios are all based on actual events, situations and conversations gathered as a result of that research. As part of that research process, to ensure an accurate picture was portrayed through this piece, health professionals and service users were shown draft scenes which were then discussed. They felt that the piece accurately depicts behaviours and situations which they themselves have experienced or of which they are aware. Fizzog Theatre Company is available for bookings for this piece.
MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES COVERED: Work place bullying and its effects on mental health, work related stress, inappropriate professional behaviours within the mental health system and their effects on the mental health of those who both give and receive its services
Is mother/child love unconditional? Is it even always present? This short but poignant piece raises these questions through the conversation between a mother and her adult son. But as recriminations fly, the audience finds that resolution may no longer be an option, and that all is not as it seems.
MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES COVERED: Dysfunctional family relationships, suicide and its far reaching effects
About the Author
Louise Stokes, born in Somerset on February 8th 1962, became an actor, writer, stand up comedian, artist and healer, as a result of nhs bullying. She grew up in Shropshire before studying a Joint Honours B.A. in Philosophy and Politics at Durham University, moving to Birmingham in 1984, after gaining her degree, to train as a psychiatric nurse. She devoted fifteen years of her life to the health service, working first with adults, and later specialising in child psychiatry. During these years, she gained a Certificate in Individual and Family Counselling, an M.A. in Sociological Research in Health Care, and a Diploma in Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing.
Up until the events of 1998, written about in this first book, Louise had never taken one single day off sick, even completing shifts only hours before the births of three of her four children. The twelve months sick leave imposed upon her by health service managerial bullies bullying her to within an inch of her life, ended one vocation only to open the door almost immediately to another when she embarked on a theatre studies course at Birmingham Theatre School in 2000. From here, she went on to achieve an HND in Community Theatre at Dudley College. The ability to write, which had been given to her as a gift, she believes, to ease her pain in her darkest moments, developed into a new career, and Louise now writes and performs for a living as well as running drama and creative workshops for children and adults. Her previous background has meant she now uses her drama and writing training and skills to work creatively with people experiencing mental health issues as well as with a variety of other people.
The intense and disillusioned condition in which the nhs bullying had left her meant that although it had provided her with plenty of comedy, as well as serious material, she had been completely robbed of her sense of humour. A vow to remain serious, depressed, and pessimistic about the world and those within it for the rest of her life, came to a premature close when her sense of humour unexpectedly returned and she decided to turn tragedy into comedy and become a stand-up comedian and comedy writer in addition to her serious writing and performance work. She now tours the country on the comedy circuit, reached the semi-finals of So You Think You’re Funny? the Edinburgh Fringe national new comedy act competition in 2008, the quarter finals of The Laughing Horse New Comedy Act of the Year in 2009 and continues to make her mark in national competitions around the country.
Louise works as co-director of Black Country based Fizzog Theatre Company, in addition to her varied work as a freelance artist. Most of her work is issue-based and awareness-raising, using both humour and serious social comment through the mediums of literature and drama to try and challenge perceptions which are discriminatory, prejudiced, ignorant, or just plain unhelpful.
These days Louise would list her achievements thus: BA, RMN, MA, Cert. Family and Individual Counselling, Diploma Child and Adolescent psychiatric nursing, Certificate in Theatre Studies, HND Performing Arts Community Theatre, NFSH Healer, Reiki Healer 2nd Degree, Wife, Mother, Human Being
THE LIVING ROOM
(The Inner Voice becomes the voice of Evie’s mother, moving downstage left whilst Evie moves downstage right as they both mime being on the telephone)
MOTHER: Hello Evie, thought I’d ring, if I’d waited for you to ring me I would be cold and in my grave before I heard from you. Doing anything for your birthday? Anything nice?
EVIE: Going out, I think. I’ve been meaning to ring mother, but…
MOTHER: Out? That’s nice, out where? Who with?
EVIE: With my friends, mother, look I don’t have much time…
MOTHER: Friends? Well that’s good. Going out. With your friends. Does this mean you’re trying to be a bit more normal?
EVIE: Normal mother, what do you mean?
MOTHER: Doing things that other girls your age do, socialising. Are you considering getting drunk?
EVIE (To the audience): Drunk? Is she joking? Does she realise how many calories there are in a glass of alcohol? And worse, too much danger in the loss of my real friends; Willpower and Determination (To mother): No mother, don’t worry
MOTHER: (Sounding disappointed): Oh. Well never mind. Get your friends to take you for a nice meal somewhere.
EVIE: Yes mother.
MOTHER: You are eating properly aren’t you?
EVIE: Yes mother.
MOTHER: Proper meals I mean. You are making yourself proper meals?
EVIE: Yes mother.
MOTHER: No need to take that tone, if you didn’t give me cause to worry I wouldn’t need to ask.
MOTHER: And I’m not nagging, before you say anything – I’m just concerned. I am your mother, it’s my right to worry about you.
EVIE: I didn’t say it wasn’t.
MOTHER: Anyway, since you’ll be out with your friends on your birthday, I’ll see you later in the week shall I? Maybe you can make us a nice meal, get some food in.
EVIE: Whatever you say. Bye then.
MOTHER: Have a nice birthday.
EVIE: Yes. Bye mother.
MOTHER: Ring me in the week.
EVIE: Yes. Bye mother.
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