I will be assisting on this ambitious and moving project over the next few weeks…
I thought I would never see the light again, never enjoy the sun on my skin or rejoice in drawing breath again. Ever. But I have. (Elaine Paton, Journal entry 2002)
An immersive site responsive theatre performance in disused ward at Whitchurch Hospital: 07-12 March.
Since 1908 Whitchurch Hospital has been in the business of mending the mentally unwell; in April 2016, this significant Cardiff landmark will finally close as the service moves to a new, purpose built hospital in Llandough; the old building, eroded by time, can no longer provide the care and comfort that patients need.
During the summer of 2015, theatre maker Elaine Paton and visual artist Julia Thomas had an artists residency in East 1, a disused ward at the hospital. They were granted unprecedented access to hidden areas, archival photographs, and historical artefacts including the patient ledgers dating back to the first day that ‘Whitchurch Asylum for Lunatics’ opened. The recorded interviews with past and present staff revealed voices and stories that resonated with humour and sadness, as the Whitchurch ‘family’ prepare to leave ‘home’. Elaine also explored a more private history, revealing personal stories from her family archive, revisiting different moments when both parents were patients at Whitchurch as well as her own journey with and within the mental health care system.
A successful and well attended sharing was held combining film, audio and performative installations, and following enthusiastic feedback and support, Paton has teamed up with Creative Producer Sian Thomas to realise a full scale project to mark the much anticipated closing of the site.
‘Moment(o)s of Leaving’ wishes to articulate this evocative and semi-vacant site as a metaphor whilst addressing important public issues of mental health, particularly through biographical material and the stories that emerge from the site, using a variety of media and performance modes. Manipulating a visual and audio landscape from sourced material, and layering this with contributions from performer/collaborators to express the themes of leaving within the site, we intend to physically express the internal landscape of mental illness, mainly hidden from view, in order to lift the veil of suspicion, secrecy and shame that still persists today.
This hospital is shrouded in mythical, archaic and frightening imagined images; by inviting the public in we will lift the veil of secrecy and suspicion of the institution, and also lift the veil of secrecy and shame surrounding those who become mentally unwell.
Moment(o)s of Leaving gratefully acknowledges funding from Arts Council Wales and Cardiff & Vale Health Charity