The Confines of Fear

In Honour of ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’, we thought we would reflect on our Artistic Director’s personal experience with dealing with poor mental health and anxiety. Zöe’s blog was the basis for the commission that would, almost two years later, become HEDGEHOG. We open at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre in a month (11th – 22nd June)

October 19, 2017

I been worryin’ that my time is a little unclear
I been worryin’ that I’m losing the one’s I hold dear
I been worryin’ that we all live our lives in the confines of fear
Mama, cold hearted child, tell me how you feel
Just a grain in the morning air, dark shadow on the hill
Mama, cold hearted child, tell me where it all goes Is that what you feel will make a fool of our soul?
-Ben Howard, singer (song:The Fear)

This is my second draft of this ‘stream of consciousness’ blog thing I do. Both are incredibly different in context and personal feelings towards this thing called ‘LIFE’.
My first draft (written on the 16th July) started as such: “I’m currently, what you’d call, ‘avoiding life’. The past couple of months I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching, to work out what I seem to be avoiding and why I am doing it, doing the bare minimum..

I am avoiding interacting with people on a regular basis. avoiding getting a sustainable job. going to gym classes. (London doesn’t help. Lonely anxious tube rides and isolated faces.) social events are a massssssive no no. birthdays. parties and going to the pub with friends hasn’t been on the table for quite some time. Don’t get me wrong, I still manage to do stuff, and function as a regular 23 year old woman should but at times it really does seem harder for my brain to stop focusing on the things I haven’t managed to do and fixate on that. The Fear. Even after nine months of therapy, following a slog of daily panic attacks , sessions focused on mind management (something might I add is more likened to going to the gym for your mind, rather than lying on a chaise longue and crying for an hour), it seems that most days I get faced with challenges that others seem to tackle easily. This fear I have in my head that something terrible will happen.

So I named my anxiety “Squelch”.

This is him…..(yes I drew him. and yes he’s wearing red boots!)

For those lucky enough not to know how Anxiety/depression/panic feels like I can simply describe it as such (for me):

Anxiety: Can make you feel everything all at once and nothing at all. You feel empty yet full to the brim. Exhausted with a head full of racing thoughts.
Panic attacks: take all the above and shorten the time down to a few minutes and take away the ability of breathing normally

Think a spike on a graph.

Depression: All the above things but with the feeling of being underwater and the depths of nothingness.

Now all these feelings above were right of those, some day in July. and I guess what I’m trying to get to here is that feelings don’t last and you never stay stuck in that emotion for long. It comes in waves of emotion and its learning to stay afloat, thats the hard part.
Now don’t get me wrong some days all I wanna do is avoid all human contact and hide in my pit of a bed. But since writing down these thoughts, and mostly because of writing it, I have been pushing myself out of my comfort zone and Holding my own more. Facing the fear and doing it anyway.

1) I have been to a festival (large groups of sweaty people mostly covered in glitter right?) I have been to many before but not since my anxiety started but I loved it and didn’t feel anxious once.

2) Went to a house party, which for most people doesn’t seem like a big deal but for me this was one of the big ones, being able to hold down conversations in small groups and feel like I have something to add and let loose a bit. (again, I had a great time and there was nothing scary about it!) ​

3) Got myself a new job! hooray! Now, this was something I would say I was avoiding and had to throw myself into. Being an actor, you need a job thats flexible, brings the money in but won’t get funny if you have to nip off for one morning to meet Nina Gold for a one line part in Game of Thrones (pah, I wish!). I was waiting out for the perfect job to exist (it doesn’t) and was putting it off. Luckily, someone hired me (hey, I’m personable yeah!) and I’ve really been enjoying it.

There’s a theme happening here right?!

So to make point to this waffling, I would like to share with you things I have learnt (still learning) when trying to overcome ‘the blues’…

In order to get in control of your thoughts: you need to control them. Another reason, I guess I named my anxiety/depression: I found personifying him made it seem less a part of me and more a thing in my brain I could take control of. I make him take vacations and work a 9-5 job just like everyone else, even if it seems like he’s always working overtime!!

Find what works for you. Writing your thoughts down helps get it out of your brain and you can start to rationalise them.

​You have to be pro-active, fight the instinct to have a duvet day if you feel you can’t face the world, as one day can easily turn into 5… (and trust it coming from someone who’s boyfriend has many a time had to pull them from bed and dress.) Go to the gym, a walk, work, it’ll help you in the long run, avoiding life will not.

Don’t be ashamed that your brain works differently to others. everyone has their own ‘little brain thing’. and it is probably completely different to yours. Be kind always, to yourself and others.

Talk to someone. Friends/family/a therapist. We are all in this life game together and need to support each other more. Notice why you feel this way and make an active decision to talk to others.

Try and notice your achievements (however small.) and pat yourself on the back.

I guess there isn’t really a real reason for writing this, other than that I know a couple of people who could do with being reminded of this. (myself included) Its important to talk about it, whatever is going on in your head and try and make sense of it. Be in control of it, not the other way around.

We as humans, don’t like asking for help and therefore let it build up inside our little brains and it becomes cluttered, like really cluttered and we hold onto things, tiny moments and it can feel like your brain is full to burst. That’s okay, mine feels pretty full too. And hey, if you’re not ready to face that gym class yet, don’t beat yourself up about it!

Face the fear, the unknown and do it anyway.

​Look after each other.

​Z x

Some Helpful Links if you need them.


Finding Hedgehog!

We’ve been doing LOOP for so long, we’ve forgotten what it’s like putting a new piece of work out there.

For ages it’s been, “we’ll have a couple of rehearsals there, we’ll just dust the show off and we’ll be ready to go” that we’ve forgotten how nerve rackingly terrifying it is to start creating a new play from scratch.

As the writer, the biggest fear is “well, I have no idea whether this material works”. But that’s not entirely true. The very first incarnation of Hedgehog was performed at Hatch’s new work night in Waterloo in Spring 2018.

That was the first time Manda’s words had been spoken aloud, and we got a sense of how the audience would respond to her.

But beyond a few laughs and a few lines of dialogue, we really have no idea what to expect.

This play was commissioned and written in January 2018, before we had any idea that LOOP was going to have a further life. So when I got stuck in to creating a character specifically for Zoe, it was with the full expectation that this piece would see the light of day, at the latest, summer of that year

And then came Stratford East. And the megabus to the always mighty 53two (who, rest assured, are going to return with a vengeance to take Manchester by storm, as they always have and always will). And then came a month of temperamental weather and well-trodden cobbles and more than a few late nights, as we made the Underbelly our home.

But all roads led to Kentish Town. And as we make that wonderfully versatile studio our new base, we knew it was time to get back to the Spice Girls, and Mr Jenkins’ shop off the high street, and to stand on the edge of the dance floor.

The fantastic women from LOOP are returning, (have I mentioned the twins from the Shining being really quite creepy? You’ll see what I mean when you come to the show) and they’re being led by the phenomenal Georgia Richardson, who’s grounding the show in an uncomfortable reality.

The reality that everything’s not always alright beneath the surface. Even if that surface seems fine. Seems funny. Seems bright. There might be something horrible beneath.

We’ve got three weeks until intensive rehearsals. There are props to source and stressful moments bound to be ahead. But a new one’s coming.

We haven’t had that feeling for a couple of years. And it’s exciting.


Living on Fringe Time

So we’re halfway through.

Apparently Fringe time is a thing, where your whole life while you’re up here just sweeps past in one long day, punctuated only by excessive drinking, watching a cornucopia of good (and sometimes hysterically bad) performances, and   the odd couple of hours of sleep, before you drag yourself up again and have to shove some more culture in to your eye sockets and through to your brain, or flyer for your own show, so other people can shove what you’ve created into their brain.

But it’s grand. I mean, it’s absolutely insane. The fact that for one month, a city that normally conducts itself in much the same way as any other, turns into a twisting labyrinth of theatres, black box spaces around every corner, above and below every bar, inside every lecture hall and no matter where you turn, there’s a flyer to be pushed into your hand.

And we feel like we’re holding our own in this madness. Audience figures have climbed every day, we’ve had some lovely audience feedback and quotes to be had; the highlight has to have been people coming up to us on the street and saying how much they’ve enjoyed LOOP, how it spoke to them and what they took from it. We’re doing this, holding our own, despite not being the biggest show at the fringe, despite not having massive billboards everywhere you look, despite all this, people are coming to see our show day in, day out.

We have seen some brilliant, brilliant stuff. Just to name a few – Violet by Poor Michelle, written and performed by Bebe Saunders, was a beautiful look at aging and friendship, well written and wonderfully performed. The Loop Troop unanimously loved the critically acclaimed Flesh & Bone, proclaiming it “one of the most important plays of the year”. It has to be mentioned that we have seen Eastlake Production’s own Very Blue Peter about 4 times now – an insane, anarchic, unaired episode of Blue Peter from 1998,with a man in a skin-tight gimp suit, a football hooligan who the presenters thought was 7 years old (he’s 27) and some of the most quotable, cult-y lines we’ve ever come across in a play (“Sure aren’t I WELL?!”)

Just today, we saw 3 Years, 1 Week & a Lemon Drizzle with was an absolute breath of fresh air from the Donnachie sisters – important, yet always funny. Poignant, but never self indulgent. Such a great, joyous show.

Navigating the festival has been a mad one. We’ve stayed out late, too late, and our general health has started to fray a little – those tickly coughs and sore throats are rearing their heads. Butwe’ll be alright. We’ll leave you on these pieces of advice from the Troop:

Zöe: Have one day off from the Fringe, where you don’t see any theatre. Away from the madness. Just to refresh the mind.

Alex: Go to bed. Get yourself to bed once in a while. For God’s sake, get some sleep.

Aaron: Stay hydrated. Breathe deeply in the shower.

Emily: See good stuff. Book to see good stuff, so you don’t miss out. Book stuff early, so you’re not disappointed.

Lucy: Don’t stop drinking water otherwise you’ll be screwed very quickly. Doesn’t matter how much you drink of other stuff, just keep drinking water.

James: Abuse your discount alcohol lanyard. And climb Arthur’s Seat. Not necessarily in that order.

Here’s to the other half.

We’ll sleep in September.

Love & Boogie,

BoxLess xx

A Theatre of Symbolism

Blog by Alexander Knott (Co-Director, Resident playwright)

Fringe is brilliant.

“You know – maybe this is Theatre of Symbolism”, I said to the cast of LOOP in rehearsals one day last week. And, naturally, I was met with a bunch of blank stares, and James saying “What are you on about now?” in that dry, blank, Northern ragamuffin intellectual way he has about him.

Now don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t trying to be some big arty type, sat there with my play about music and family, thinking that I’d coined a brand new term, and invented a new type of theatre (though let’s be honest, we’ve all thought that at one time or another, right? Right? Only me? Fair enough. Moving on.)

But it got me thinking about Fringe. Not just Edinburgh, the whole fringe side of theatre. Now I love fringe – I think, at it’s best, it is infinitely more exciting, experimental, brave, bold, collaborative and satisfying for both audience and performers than the West End can ever really be.

And that’s not just because the West End shows have to be big, certain hit, gold-plated money spinners (although often they do); it’s because, in the fringes, above the pubs, and inside the black box studios, there is a real ‘throw everything at the wall, see what sticks, let’s do it anyway, even though we have no budget and no set and no actors’ attitude that resonates more powerfully, more immediately with people.

And, while we’re here, that’s what theatre has that film doesn’t.


You’re in the same room as the people you’re telling the story to. There’s no getting away. You have them there, they’re not leaving (hopefully) and you can talk right to them, there and then, in that small dark space in Camden or Dalston or Camberwell. Or Stratford, in our case.

The reason that fringe can be so exciting and experimental is because, although everyone always wants to break even, there’s often no producer demanding that the show makes thousands upon thousands, although that’s always going to be the long term aim.

So you will see people down the Vaults, or at the Camden or Clapham Fringe, taking risks and creating shows that no one in an office with a chequebook would consider a goer. But that’s what makes the fringe scene the most diverse, and the most engaging.

So when you see a set that’s using black cubes as a living room, as a nightclub, as a bus, and a tube carriage, and a hospital, or come across a company that’s decided that instead of shelling out on a particularly tricky or cumbersome prop, they’d just mime the bugger – then that’s the Theatre of Symbolism.

Conjure it in the audience’s imagination, and they’ll buy it. And you didn’t have to buy that prop.

Make do and mend. Because a bare stage, with a light pointing at it and a few bodies walking and talking at the same time, that’ll hold the audience’s attention. Then the words just have to be the right ones.

Props that come out of nowhere. Props that don’t actually exist, but with that flourish the actor just did, you think for a second you saw something that wasn’t there. That’s it. That’s the one. That’s why huge fancy sets are never going to be as good as something you’ve had to make do and mend with.

That’s why Fringe is brilliant. And if, one day, we’re sat on a big expensive, fully realised, bells and whistles set, I’d like to think we’d be able to go “We did this with four black cubes once.”

That’s why Fringe is brilliant.