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Milestones and I, Lord: two months, two shows!

… And breathe.

The last three months have without a doubt been the busiest in RAT’s life so far. What follows is a blog post that probably should have been about six separate posts over the course of that time. Thank you to everyone who has been following our journey across our social media channels in that time. To those of you who rely on this page to follow our activities, we do apologise.

As the founder of a grassroots organisation raising awareness of trauma, I also feel it’s apt to share that, since the premiere of I, Lord four weeks ago, time constraints have only been a small part of what has stopped me from doing this write-up. Trauma has hit hard. Even if the headaches, stomach cramps, hot-and-cold flushes and muscular weakness (and, spontaneous nosebleeds, anyone?) had subsided for long enough to write of the work we have been doing with the love it deserves - I thought it best to wait to do so until I could distinguish between what was happening in my dreams and what was happening in my waking life, and the timeline of it all could stick safely to the walls in my head without dropping into a senseless pile. We've got there, thank goodness!

We look forward to (and anticipate!) a time when we have a big enough team to log things as they are happening. For now, thank you for bearing with us. I also look with pride at the care we have taken, despite our limited resources, to make sure we are supporting the survivors who have shared this part of our journey. That support goes both ways, of course: I couldn't have done it without them, either, and celebrate how we continue to learn from each other about best practice.

We’ve put on first performances of two big projects since September: let’s do them one by one.

In May 2022, during the post-show discussion after our first show NoMad at the Bloomsbury Studio Theatre, I had the pleasure of hearing Prof Monica Lakhanpaul talk about CHAMPIONS: the national research project into experiences of temporary accommodation for families with children under 5, that she and Dr Nadzeya Svirydzenka have been running since 2021. This powerhouse team has compiled a series of policy recommendations to help get the least well-off kids back on track according to their SHE framework (Safe, Healthy, Educated), following the turbulence of the pandemic and its aftermath. We were honoured that they asked us to create a play based on the interviews conducted with parents of these kids, to make the case for the recommendations as clear to the hearts of the public and policy makers as the data made it to their minds.

As someone who is usually determined that theatre shouldn't tell people what to do or think or feel, but provide the information and stimuli required to come to their own conclusions over time, this was an interesting challenge. Could I honour that principle and still promote a very specific, readymade set of recommendations directly through the drama? The thought process reminded me that I love rules only because they make the exceptions very intentional. The formative years of the children served by this project are whizzing by, and every week they spend without the nutrition, healthcare, education, and safe housing they need is having a long-term effect on their development. They don't have time for us to ponder our reaction. But if we act now, we can reverse the damage and give them the start they deserve in life.

We were thrilled to present the show to a full house of invited audience at the Bloomsbury Studio on 25th September, and to be joined by:

BBC social affairs correspondent, Michael Buchanan;

freelance TV director, Sam Pratt;

Labour MP, Siobhain McDonagh; and

Kadie, who has lived experience of living in temporary accommodation;

for a panel discussion afterwards - at which a petition was decided upon for one small action our government can enact quickly and easily towards the wider task of supporting these children: that every household in temporary accommodation that needs it should be provided with a cot, so children have somewhere safe to sleep.

We went on to present some of the play at the international Theatre About Science conference in Coimbra, Portugal: the first time RAT has been abroad! It was an honour to share our work with others pushing the boundaries of science communication and research. The next stage of our collaboration with CHAMPIONS will see us bringing our trauma-conscious theatre participation methods into the research process itself, with a paper written on our findings. This is a profound innovation, and we thank University College London and De Montfort University for their trust in this.

We expect and hope there will be opportunities to present Milestones to the public soon. Meanwhile, you can see a few extracts in this clip from our interview on BBC London News!

We had barely hung up our Milestones costumes when we started rehearsing I, Lord - but it didn't feel a second too soon. We have been holding this story for such a long, and with every day that goes by, the need to create held spaces for discussions around spiritual abuse and trauma, mutual respect, institutional power, and the spiritual needs we all share and meet (or don't meet) differently, becomes ever more apparent. The rehearsal process was full, as it should have been, of learning, unanswerable questions, fun, frustration, long-awaited laughter juxtaposed with long-overdue tears, community, communication, and hope.

It was the first time RAT has worked so directly with survivors who didn't necessarily have experience of theatre on an original piece for public performance. For me, having done one R&D process on it with theatre-makers-by-trade and another with survivors, bringing the two together for the first time was one of those rare Goldilocks moments where everything felt just right. I am so proud of the combination of gentleness and boldness that we held together in that space, and that was needed to bring the piece to life.

We were back at the Bloomsbury for our premiere on 30th October - this time in the main house. For survivors of an abuse so under-acknowledged, so frequently brushed under the carpet, denied visibility for so long - to have proud visibility on a major central London stage throughout the action (and giving terrific performances, I might add), was a breakthrough with resonance that was felt throughout the auditorium. Here are some of the responses we’ve had so far:

"I am still reeling from the performance yesterday. This piece is so full of compassion, and it amazes me how someone who had once received so little compassion from the world around her is able to produce something that is full of acceptance, understanding and hope."- survivor

"So thought provoking and powerful. Kept saying 'wow'!"- interested public

"It was so insightful and such a powerful performance."- activist

"Tonight was profoundly disturbing in the most spiritually appropriate way. I was moved to tears at several points. Your courage has had a huge impact on our family and ministry."- CofE priest

"an unforgettable piece of theatre" - ally

"Fantastic. Be proud of this evening and feel positive about what is to come."- CofE National Safeguarding Team employee

The kids in the parallel children’s show had a fab time, too, and it was so exciting to see this idea come to fruition so well. We’ve been assured that this child was trying to write “I am sad because we are leaving”...!

We had the absolute pleasure of a post-show discussion with experts across many relevant fields:

anthropologist, educator, and artist, Dr Ayeshah Émon;

co-founder and clinical director of Attune, Chula J Goonewardene;

lecturer in public health, Dr Aradhna Kaushal;

founder and Executive Director of Naz and Matt Foundation, Matt Mahmood-Ogston;

and pioneer ordinand, Sarah Molyneaux-Hetherington.

We will be writing up what was discussed and sharing this soon, so stay tuned! We will also be releasing a zine of the work created in (and after) the survivor workshops within the next few months.

Plenty to look forward to - last but certainly not least, we are delighted to announce that there will be a week-long run of I, Lord from 13-17th February! This time, we’ll be in the much more intimate venue of The Space, a repurposed church on the Isle of Dogs, East London - one of the most religiously diverse areas in the UK. Each performance will be followed by space for discussion between the audience and the team, with a welfare lead present, to reflect on the resonances of the work for those present, if they wish - we felt this was crucial following a play about a topic that has been denied discussion for so long.

The children's show will also be making a comeback alongside the middle three performances, 14-16th - so parents, get those dates in your diaries.

We expect a really wide-ranging, buzzing audience on this one and we want you there! Please do book soon to avoid disappointment: having had audience members travel all the way from Bristol, Manchester, Leeds and even Ireland to see our Bloomsbury performance, we anticipate filling up quite quickly.

The need for this play is palpable: we can't wait for you to see it.

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Jenny Mulholland
Jenny Mulholland
Nov 28, 2023

Nell, the work you and RAT are doing is so important - shedding light and insight on real experiences of trauma with survivor participation, compassion and urgency that has great power. Well done, and thank you.

Jenny from Old Diorama Arts Centre

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