Whittington Health and Wake The Beast one-of-a-kind pandemic performance features at Parliament
27 Apr 2023
Over 50 people packed out the intimate performance hosted by Rt Hon Emily Thornberry, MP for Islington South and Finsbury. The performance was followed by an in-depth question and answer from a panel which included actors, health professionals, and members of staff who had their stories retold.
Rt Hon Emily Thornberry said “The trauma of COVID is like a shared dirty secret. We still haven’t worked through this trauma, and it is particularly hard for those in the health service who we rely on so much. To get the opportunity to have an insight into the experience of these workers is something that is really important and is a message I will pass around among my colleagues in parliament.”
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Whittington Health Clinical Health Psychology team were redeployed to offer psychological support to staff in the Trust. As well as providing safe spaces for staff to talk and reflect on their experiences they wanted to use the power of the arts to tell the real stories of the pandemic.
The Whittington Health Clinical Health Psychology team teamed up with long-time collaborators theatre company Wake The Beast. Together they interviewed over 200 hundred staff members and collected over 140 hours of audio to create a verbatim theatre performance charting the challenges, but also the incredible moments and mighty people who achieved so much.
The project titled ‘In Our Own Words’ was performed to Whittington Health staff in care homes, community health centres, hospital wards, and meeting rooms. The piece is an opportunity to witness the inspiring stories from these conversations in a powerful and engaging way. Since 2020 seven versions of the piece have been created to reflect the ongoing challenges of staff in the NHS.
Dr Sue Gibbons, Whittington Health Clinical Psychologist, said: “Working with Wake The Beast and using performance and storytelling offered a different way of supporting staff wellbeing. For staff to hear their words and see their stories performed back to them has been incredibly powerful. It has enabled them to feel heard and acknowledged for what they've contributed.”
Research from the Health & Social Care Committee’s Workforce Burnout report shows that during the pandemic, 44% of NHS staff reported feeling un-well as a result of work-related stress. The arts including theatre, are important in sustaining our mental health and building communities. This is especially true when the performance reflects the experiences of the audience (Mental Health Foundation, 2019).
Adam McGuigan, Wake The Beast Artistic Director said “It’s humbling to speak to staff about what they’ve been through, and to hear stories that are so raw and painful. It’s been equally inspiring to see the dedication and spirit shown in the face of such adversity. The performance illustrates both the horrors of the pandemic, but also the humour and resilience of those at the front line who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.”