The Ward Round

 

Take part in a Faustian trip through the Psychiatric Underworld – via my own personal diaries, epiphanies, dreams, clinical medical notes, police records, interviews with family, friends, a psychiatrist and my therapist. Following on from sharing The Bird of Paradise by R.D.Laing at The Lowry Studio, developed with Gey Pin Ang and directed by Benedict Power in March 2016, I am now ready to tell my own story, by inviting audiences to join me in a Ward Round. This is the true story of how I ended up being the sword wielding maniac as reported on the evening news – with riot police, armed response units, dog units, and a helicopter escort in an armour plated hummer to take me straight to a psychiatric ward, without passing Go – all this for one unarmed man. What happened to lead me to this strange turn of events? Why was I seen as so dangerous? The Psychiatrist apologised for the total overreaction. So how would I then plan my final escape from the wards?

“My first Psychiatrist was called Dr. Hyde, another patient told me that there was a patient called Mr Jekyll on the next ward, I believed him. This made ward rounds a little uneasy for me.”

At 16 years old I took Acid for the first time and saw a luminous UFO like neon angel creature hovering over me that I talked to for several hours. It showed me what I understood to be the meaning of life. At 17 I was hospitalised in an adult intensive Psychiatric Ward during an LSD induced psychosis, after taking a super strong hit multiple times the normal average street dose. After staying awake for a whole weekend planning art projects, I had decided that my life would become ‘The Ultimate Art Project’, then eureka – I concluded it was fate, and that lots of things pointed to the fact that I must in fact be – the second coming, then soon after that the fallen angel of death, and a whole cast of other selves, spirits and past lives. I was hallucinating wildly with delusions of winning Wimbledon barefoot in a kilt & becoming the 5th member of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. I had truly lost my way back down from the proverbial mountaintop. Who was I now? Was I playing a role? I was already an aspiring actor. Was I hiding behind a mask? Was I ‘Method Acting’for want of a better character? From hospital, as an escape, I began to imagine a play to express my experience. “Are you the audience I imagined? Am I in character now? … Are you?” 

In Psychiatric Hospitals and Units, the Ward Round is the one chance to express ones feelings and experience to your Psychiatrist and team, and to make changes in your treatment plan, medication, and passes so you can be allowed out of the hospital. This weekly ritual is the focus of a lot of anxiety and stress for a lot of patients who, often through gallows humour and communal mutual support, try to find their way to being heard, to getting the help they might actually need within a system designed not to believe their story, except as a symptom of madness. This setting acts as a perfect context for the story, doubling up as a patients lounge, and an art class recreating the time I worked as a life model. The audience are invited to participate and engage directly in The Ward Round, where they will join in with dissecting and understanding ‘Madness’, and the actual process of going mad. A whodunnit mystery on the process of psychosis. Part how to guide on surviving in psychiatric treatment, part dramatic reconstruction, part group therapy; The Ward Round is a participatory and immersive theatrical experience. What will the audience decide? How would you survive if you were sectioned? Who is mad and who isn’t? Is the system working? With this piece I aspire to raise questions and inspire conversations, and to making real change in people’s lives.

Eventually all in, 4 hospitalisations added up to a profound and dramatic year of my life spent on Psychiatric Wards, in nearly a decade of treatment. I witnessed the brutality of the system & the humanity of those struggling within it, on both sides of the care divide. My expertise by experience anchors this project. I have been recovered, medication & psychiatrist free for over 12 years. In the last year I have acted as a patient advocate in ward rounds for a close friend undergoing Psychiatric treatment (having previously advocated for both family and friends). The situation and circumstances has gotten much worse and sadly not better since I was last an inpatient in 2004. Sectioning is at a record rate and suicide the largest killer of adult males under 50. That is partly why I feel it is so crucial to tell my story now, including my own brush with suicide and those of friends, with help from a superb creative team and supporting partners. The finished play will be a dark comedy with a dramatic core, integrating a visceral physical performance with interactive 3D projection mapping of characters & environments, involving audiences in interactive video gaming elements. The piece will offer a positive, dynamic & accessible audience experience.

A radical Scottish Psychiatrist:

One book in particular helped me to understand my experience, and that of the system I had been inducted into: The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise by R.D.Laing. Sent to me by my cousin the year after my initial hospitalisation. Laing expressed what I couldn’t and gave me a vocabulary to understand my experience. The Bird of Paradise chapter describes his similar vision to my own initial experience on Acid. R.D. Laing showed me a way to get out the only way I could find – through and out the other side, from breakdown to breakthrough – inspiring me to be the cuckoo who flew the nest, to become the surgeon of my own psyche and follow in some way the self-testing path he had forged, and the medicinal mantra ‘Physician; heal thyself’.

If the jewel in R.D. Laing’s work was “to make madness and the process of going mad comprehensible”, revealing how invariably psychosis was a case of people escaping from untenable situations into an imagined inner world – What if my inner imagined reality in response to being placed in a Psychiatric Ward was to invent the play you are now watching? Is this play itself the product of a madness? Is it a folly? Can you the audience help me to escape? The Ward, the ‘straightjacket of conformity’, the play itself?

“Are you the the audience I imagined? … Am I in character now? .. Are you?” 

R.D. Laing had a radical idea. That madness is and can be a rite of passage. And that what is needed are “ex-patients to help would be future patients to go mad”. I learned from R.D. Laing’s writing and ideas, and even tried to apply them within the hospital, in various efforts to try and help other patients, to varying degrees of success, some of these attempts are recreated here during the performance. As an outpatient I once played a convincing April Fools on my Psychiatrist by telling her I was hearing a voice. I said I was hearing it in the room, as she asked me to repeat what it was saying, I did… “April Fools”.

In addition I can offer:

Relaxed performances, with trigger warnings: Specifically geared towards service user audiences where some of the material in the piece may well be triggering.

Readings / Presentations: based on and about the piece.

Interviews / Q&A Sessions: Sharing some interviews with key people involved in the project including the creative team, several R.D.Laing scholars, and a practising NHS Psychiatrist who will consult my clinical notes.

Access to online resources for the project: Resources for staff, mental health workers, charities and related departments and organisations.

The Rumpus Room: A workshop for performers and artists on how to find balance and prioritise self care. 

 

Creative Team & Supporting Partners: 

Director: Gey Pin Ang

Choreographer: Kevin Edward Turner

Producer: Stepping Out Theatre, the country’s leading mental health theatre company

Forum Interactive: Health related forum theatre specialist consultants

Dramaturgy: Ridiculusmus / Stepping Out Theatre

Multimedia Design: Garth Williams / Safetycatch3D

Multimedia Mentoring: Chris Squire / Impossible Arts / The Watershed (Space

Isadora Software Consultant: John Collingswood

Royal Exchange Theatre: Rehearsal space and time

42nd Street: a Manchester charity supporting young people with their emotional wellbeing & mental health

Tampere International Mental Health Theatre Festival Finland 2019

Breaking Convention: The Conference on Psychedelic Consciousness

Dr. Adrian Chapman, R.D.Laing Scholar and Literature Professor

Dr. Gavin Miller, head of the Medical Humanities Research Centre (home of the R.D.Laing archive) at Glasgow University.

Dr. Allan Beveridge, practising NHS Psychiatrist and R.D.Laing early career biographer.