Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Weird: Lucy Burke @ Edfringe 2018

WEIRD – Some Riot Theatre
Pleasance Courtyard, Bunker Two, 1 – 27 Aug 2018 (not 14), 13.45 (14.45)

Yasmin feels different, she feels weird. She longs to be normal like everyone else but that’s proving difficult... Based on writer Lucy Burke’s experiences, WEIRD explores the highs and lows of what it is like for a sufferer, and a sufferer’s family, to live in the shadows of obsessive compulsive disorder. Winner of the Arcola Theatre’s Slam SOAPS 2018, the show was awarded a one-night staging at the Arcola.


How would you define the political content of your work?

When answering this question, a further question springs to mind and that is this: If something strives to make a change, is it political? Can all plays that set out to change the way a society views an issue, be described as political plays? If this is the case then yes, WEIRD is a political play; I have three main societal changes that I am trying to work towards - 

1. To educate, to present an accurate portrayal of OCD, that it is not a jaunty character trait or a punch line to a joke about people who like to clean, but that actually - if untreated -  it is a debilitating disorder that massively restricts quality of life.

2. To inspire people to become more open about their own mental health and to lessen the stigma surrounding mental health conditions.

3. To raise money and awareness for the charity OCD Action by having a bucket collection at the end of the show.

But just because I have a list of objectives I would like the play to achieve in terms of making a change within society, does this mean that I am allowed to label this a political play and myself some sort of activist? I suppose we really need to think about how useful a tool theatre is in general in terms of inspiring change - can it really change a lot or is it a middle class-pass time that allows us to tell ourselves we are making a difference? I think it’s probably both to be honest, and my view is, I’d rather try my best to promote change via a medium that I’m lucky enough to have access to, than to not do anything at all.
That being said, when I write, I primarily think about how my ‘message’ and theme is going to be conveyed on a much more personal level - WEIRD is a play, based on personal experience, of how a mental health condition can affect not only a sufferer but how mental health can become a huge obstacle in terms of growing and maintaining relationships with friends and family. 

It’s this personal angle that makes it more hard-hitting I think, because not everyone has lived with OCD, but everyone has relationships that are important to them, that are hard to maintain because of both internal and external pressures. This is what people will connect to on a human level, and if that teaches them a thing or two about obsessive compulsive disorder, or encourages them to speak to a friend or loved one about their own mental health, then that is a lovely bonus.

Are there ways in which your work can engage the audience beyond the immediate emotional rush of the content, and move forward towards further action?

It’s for this reason that I wanted to do the bucket collection for the charity OCD Action after the show; while I’m hoping that that emotional rush inspires the audience to want
to share their own experiences with mental health or to pay closer attention to how OCD is often falsely portrayed in the media, this might not happen. 

There’s no way of guaranteeing that my writing is going to make people feel An Exact Type Of Way. Maybe people will like it, maybe they won’t. Maybe (hopefully!) they’ll like it but simply because they’ve had a fun afternoon at the theatre watching an - albeit dark - comedy, rather than because it’s moved them to suddenly want to stand up and fight against the social injustices surrounding the topic of mental health. I don’t know, I can’t say how people will feel after the show, I can only say how I want them to feel. 

But that’s why I’m so glad that we’re able to do the bucket collection after the show too, because I feel like it’s the most tangible way that I can do my bit to contribute - the money will be given directly to the charity, the charity will use it in some way to fund their work, therefore by donating, the audience are helping the cause. In this same vein, we’ll also be giving out literature on OCD after the show, which has been sent to us by OCD Action and is what the charity themselves use to raise awareness of the facts of OCD. 

I honestly wish someone would have handed me one of these leaflets about ten years ago because it probably would have made my journey towards diagnosis and recovery a whole load easier and saved myself and my family a lot of heartache; If one person’s life is saved, or made better by this show and by the work we’re doing after the show (collecting money for the charity and distributing the literature) then surely it is all worth while? 


Maybe - my inner cynic cries out - in that case we should just not do the show at all and just do a bucket collection and give out flyers in the street? But the optimistic side of me wins this battle, because I do think the show itself is important too. For me it’s the combination of that emotional rush that is achieved by good theatre, combined with the practical nature of the bucket collection after the show, that makes me feel like I am in with a hope of bringing about any kind of change with my play WEIRD.

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