(#AD) a review of Ladybones – a theatre show about OCD & an interview with the brilliant theatre maker Sorcha McCaffrey

The potential power of theatre on audiences can’t be overstated enough; it can educate, encourage questioning, raise awareness, expose folks to new things, tells untold stories of real people, challenge perceptions alongside being a lush cultural experience… I feel like I’ve learnt more from the safe space of watching theatre, than from anything else in recent years.

Every so often I go and see something at the theatre and it really reminds me of that positive power and I walk away with so many thoughts, ideas, an altered state of mind alongside it knocking my socks off. Ladybones, a one woman show about archaeology and OCD by theatre maker Sorcha McCaffrey, has been one of my highlights of 2020 so far. What.a.show.  Ladybones is a theatre show that packs a punch, so well put together and really has such power.

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Ladybones tells the story of a young woman called Nuala is working on an archaeological dig and discovers the bones of a girl buried hundreds of years ago and, using her own experiences, starts to put life into the girl’s remains. The play is honest, brave, real, sharp, SO FUNNY (the sex scene!) and charts the journey of Nuala growing up facing super relatable things like dating, sex, work pressure whilst showing the descent into the grips of OCD “madness”.

Nuala draws comparisons between herself and the bones of the girl found on the dig – the skull she takes home; it both signifies the madness she is feeling alongside providing comfort and eventually symbolically leading to her release from the grips of OCD. The play is SO well written, moving and I fell in love with the character Nuala; her infectious personality, her engagement, the way she spoke to the audience and I was captivated – the way Sorcha has written the character and how she plays her, is just beaut – my eyes did not leave her through-out the performance.

(c) Alex Brenner

Ladybones (photo credit: Alex Brenner)

There are two things that I really took away from Ladybones:

1. It really does communicate to audiences the reality of OCD and is a real depiction of mental health challenges. Through-out watching it, I thought of my own history with eating disorders and depression and how brilliantly, Sorcha depicted the human experience, intrusive thoughts and that snowball descent of feeling so disempowered, out of control and for lack of a better word  “crazy”. And yet – the show is so up-lifting and I walked away with a renewed motivation and passion to continue my own work with young people and mental health.

2. The power of good audience involvement and engagement. Through-out the show, the character Nuala engages with the audience, speaks to them and involves them in the story. Now as an introvert, audience participation makes me want to curl up and hide – but on entry to Alphabetti Theatre – you were asked if you’d be up for participating and if you were, then you could wear a pink sticker. I loved that idea and think it should be rolled out across other theatre shows. I did offer to participate, was pink stickered up, had to read out a passage as part of the story and it felt lush!

Ladybones is creating ripples across the theatre community and has been receiving ace, thoroughly deserved reviews. The show has paused touring – but will be back in the coming months and when it does, go.see.it. Keep an eye out for it touring. I had the lush opportunity of chatting to Ladybones theatre maker Sorcha McCaffrey after the show at Alphabetti – we had some lush chat about the show, it’s positive impact and I left determined to tell more people about how fantastic the show was and what TALENT Sorcha is; I was delighted when she agreed to a Culture Vulture interview.

So here it is – an interview with theatre maker, writer, performer: Sorcha McCaffrey

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Sorcha McCaffrey

For my Culture Vulture followers and readers – tell me who you are and how you’d describe what you do?

I’m an actor, writer and theatre maker from a Yorkshire village on the moors. I’m now based in Manchester, and I make theatre and tell stories. Ladybones is my first play.

Did you always want to be a theatre maker/actor?

Not at all – I didn’t realise acting or making theatre was something you could do as a job. When I was younger, I mostly wanted to be an archaeologist (hence the main character Nuala’s profession in the play) or a pirate (hard to get into in West Yorkshire, also not very practical/moral).

Be more pirate! Tell me about your journey into the creative sector and theatre making?

I trained as an actor at drama school and was temping as a receptionist between acting jobs to pay the rent. I would come home wanting to keep my creativity alive and write before bed – these late-night scribbles ended up becoming Ladybones. I’ve learned so much about making theatre with this project, and it’s been a brilliant chance to realise that you can create your own work, rather than needing permission from other people to be creative.

What projects/things were you involved in before Ladybones?

I have worked as an actor with the John Godber company, at Contact Theatre, and at Co:Lab Festival at the Royal Exchange Theatre. I’ve also been part of Young Identity spoken word collective, run by a brilliant poet called Shirley May. I took part in the Royal Court writers’ group in London, and these groups gave me the chance to see that my voice is valid as a writer.

So tell me about Ladybones – what’s the show about?

Ladybones is an interactive one-woman show about OCD, dungarees and being weird but not a weirdo. It follows archaeologist Nuala as she unearths the skeleton of an unknown girl. As she is sucked into the mystery of who the girl was, her ordered life starts unravelling. It’s about what it’s like living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but it’s also funny and moving.

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Ladybones (photo credit: Alex Brenner)

I was surprised how funny it was – lots of laugh out loud moments – the inspiration behind Ladybones is your own story and experience with OCD – can you tell me a bit about your OCD experience?

I’ve had OCD since I was tiny, maybe four or five, but I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 20. Growing up, my head was full of worries and patterns and scary intrusive thoughts – I used to wake my mum up in the night to check she hadn’t died. When I found out fifteen years later that the frightening spiral of thoughts and compulsions I was stuck in was actually Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, it was a relief.

For years I had believed there was something deeply wrong with who I was, so to discover that it was an anxiety disorder I was suffering with gave me hope that I could have a better quality of life with the right help. I googled OCD and came across the charity OCD-UK, who really supported me. I found CBT therapy really worked for me, and my life is so much better now I’m not trapped by OCD.

Of course, all mental health experiences are individual – did you research any other folks OCD experience to develop the show?

I wanted to write from the truth of my own experiences, and I didn’t want to speak on behalf of other people, as individual experiences can be different and nuanced. However, it was really important to me that I represented OCD in an honest way so we  partnered with the charity OCD-UK to make sure we were coming from an informed place and also able to offer info and support to people who watched the show.

(c) Alex Brenner

Ladybones (photo credit: Alex Brenner)

How does it feel putting yourself and your story on stage? How much of the personality of the character is you on stage?

Now it feels very liberating, but at first it was terrifying, the idea of vomiting up this tangled experience on stage without knowing what people will make of it. It’s been so heartening that people have connected with the character and her story. I’d say she’s a version of me with an added dollop of imagination. But the core of her is me.

The show is very funny (alongside poignant, captivating etc) – did you intend the comedy? Does writing comedy into theatre coming naturally to you?

Thank you, so kind! I definitely wanted there to be moments of real lightness and humour, as I wanted to bring the audience into the story and make them feel like they belonged in it. I think life is funny a lot of the time, even the difficult/upsetting bits, and I also wanted it to be a joyful experience for the audience. I wanted people to feel like they understand OCD more after watching, but without it being just a dark or preachy experience.

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Ladybones (photo credit: Alex Brenner)

And I think you certainly managed that! I LOVED the movement element of the show and how you used the space (the “sex scene” was genius) – who did you work with to develop that?

My director Lucia and I worked on the movement – we wanted the story to feel like it was drawing you in and constantly on the move. The sex bit (lots of ridiculous jumping about and silliness) was a fun way to imaginatively play with the scene. The character’s thoughts are quick and jump around a lot and we wanted the movement journey of the play to reflect this.

I have a rebellious nature and activist soul – I felt like I saw that in you! Would you describe yourself as an activist?

You know what, I think I am beginning to, yeah. I underestimated how much of an impact theatre can have, and people have been so open in sharing how this show has changed things for them, whether it’s feeling less alone as someone with OCD, or finding hope for a loved one.

I think there is power in connecting with other people on a genuine level, and I’ve been quite overwhelmed by the response to the show we’ve made. I think if you are able to give an audience member something valuable, however small-scale that might be, it makes the project worth making.

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Ladybones (photo credit: Alex Brenner)

Can you talk a bit about the queer element / themes in the show?

As a queer woman I haven’t always seen my experiences on stage or on screen, and I wanted to be genuine with the story I’m telling. Nuala’s sexuality is an important part of her but not necessarily the focus of the narrative. I think representation is important, and the more intersectional experiences that are put out there, the more open and empathetic we can become.

What do you want people to take away from the show?

I’d love people to come and see the show, have a laugh, be moved, and leave feeling less lonely than when they arrived. I want this show to give people a little chunk of hope.

(c) Alex Brenner

Ladybones (photo credit: Alex Brenner)

Do you have  any advice to people currently in the midst of their own OCD struggles?

OCD is so trivialised, and I think it’s really important to acknowledge that it can be horrendous and terrifying and exhausting to live with. I think if you can reach out to somebody supportive that’s a proper start, and OCD-UK are a brilliant charity that helps people and they really understand what OCD is like to deal with.

I’d also say although it can feel impossible, there is hope for recovery. Six years ago, when I was really ill I could never have imagined having a wonderful quality of life, let alone making a show about my experiences, but here we are. A delightful plot twist.

Where can people see the show next? Why should they see the show?

We are at Oldham Coliseum on 14th May, Square Chapel Theatre in Halifax on 15th May, and we finish our tour at Slung Low in Leeds on 7th June. Whether you have OCD yourself, support a loved one, or don’t know anything about it, come along for a funny and moving immersive hour that will change how you see mental illness.

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What’s next for Ladybones post tour?

This tour is as far as we’ve got in terms of plans for the show, so catch the last few dates while you can! It’s been amazing to take Ladybones to London, Edinburgh and all over the North of England and meet so many different wonderful audiences. We’ve also recorded Ladybones as an audiobook on Audible as part of a collection of new writing from the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe if you fancy a listen!

What’s next for you post tour? What else do you have planned for 2020?

A nap and a lot of toast. Then this year I’m working on a new play (a sort of postapocalyptic queer love story), some writing commissions, and I’m a supported artist at the Oldham Coliseum theatre. I’m excited for what comes next!

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Well thank you – Sorcha – I certainly feel like this lass is one to watch for the future. I can’t express how amazing the show Ladybones is and that you should go and see it. You can check out more about Sorcha on her website and visit HERE for the Ladybones trailer.

If you are reading this and identify with any of the issues discussed OCD-UK is a great organisation to connect with and reach out to.

Disclosure – I have not been paid for this post but I did receive a complimentary ticket to see the show.

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