“Liz has got an embarrassing problem and these Activia yogurts aren’t helping…”
I’ve recently had the pleasure to meet the ‘Gutted‘ team . ‘Gutted’ is a one woman show about living with ulcerative colitis.The show’s co-creator and performer, Liz Richardson, has ulcerative colitis and presents a funny, frank and moving account of her experiences. Liz created the show with Tara Robinson, Artistic Director of The Conker Group.
The team were keen to take the performance to non-traditional theatre spaces, and to reach those who have been affected by ulcerative colitis or similar conditions. I was approached to help set up and promote a show in Leeds. The Leeds branch of Crohns and Colitis UK kindly offered to host a show at St James Hospital. I’ve just come from the performance and felt inspired to write about it!
I’ve been to many events at St James, but this felt different to anything I’d attended before. The theatrical set changed the dynamics of the space. Even a simple set seemed to have a big impact on the audience as they walked in. I’m all for mixing up the dynamics of events, and will think more about how I can use visual impact to do that in the future.
The show was very funny. That may come as a surprise to anyone who knows about ulcerative colitis! The team managed to create a comedic show without making light of a very debilitating condition. That’s not an easy balance to strike. I think the fact that Liz has personal experience of the topic probably helped her to understand that balance. This reminded me of the importance of involving your intended audience in the creation of artistic work about health.
“If you’re concerned, just talk to a member of our staff or, alternatively, swing your legs over the edge of the bed and walk out, remembering to pull the camera from your bum before leaving the hospital”
Starting a conversation
The performance was followed by a short break and then a question and answer session. During the break I noticed quite a few people talking about their own experiences of ulcerative colitis or similar conditions. It’s not always easy to have such sensitive conversations in a public environment. I think that the performance helped to facilitate those discussions as it gave people a starting point. ‘Gutted’ presents a very honest account of even the most embarrassing elements of the condition, which possibly helped others to open up. The fact that Liz gave us permission to laugh also seemed important, as it got some of the potential embarrassment out of the way.
Location, location, location
During the Q and A, we had a discussion about the pros and cons of working in non-theatre spaces. One audience member said that he felt the informal set up gave a more intimate feel, and I agree. The experience made me think about if / how we can make more of the intimacy of non-theatre spaces. It’s easy to focus on the all too familiar problems of performing outside of a theatre (lighting, sound, getting changed in a room the size of a postage stamp etc.!). Perhaps we should be thinking more about the advantages and how we can adapt performances to make the most of intimacy and informality. Another audience member commented that the hospital venue gave the piece more poignancy, particularly for people who have spent time as patients in the very same building.
I understand that the company are seeking funding for a bigger tour. I sincerely hope they get it as ‘Gutted’ has the potential to speak to many different audiences. I think people with experience of long term health conditions generally (not just ulcerative colitis) will be able to identify with the themes portrayed. NHS staff and students could also gain valuable insights.
Performances like this one could play an important role in the bringing together of patients, carers, researchers and health professionals in a variety of contexts (e.g. service design, research, health promotion). Stories and theatre can provide a catalyst for dialogue and debate and provide a common focus for people from different backgrounds. I saw that in action today!