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As I am a VERY proud alum of an all-women’s college, I was delighted to be invited to be part of Agent160, a writer-led theatre company that produces work from its female playwrights, based across the UK: Ioanna Anderson, Sam Burns, Vittoria Cafolla (also Belfast-based), Poppy Corbett, Branwen Davies, Angharad Devonald, Abigail Docherty, Clare Duffy, Samantha Ellis, Sarah Grochala, Lizzie Nunnery, Lisa Parry, Marged Parry, Morna Pearson, Lindsay Rodden (who I had the pleasure of being in the Royal Court’s National Playwriting Group with), Katie McCullough and Sandy Bendelow.

Aphra Behn – the first woman to earn her living as a playwright – was also a spy. Her codename was Agent 160. As a company, Agent 160 works to address the gender imbalance in theatre productions and commissioning.

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‘BLISS: Afloat on a sea of dreams’ for students with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD)

It’s been quite tricky to explain to people what the project I had the pleasure of being involved in with Replay Productions over the past few months has been. In true Anna-Newell-style, it’s quasi-many things, and you can’t fully understand it without experiencing it yourself.

Fortunately, Replay has just released its video documentary about the project, BLISS:


I certainly never thought that my own personal experiences with sensory overload and cognitive processing difficulties (and the anxiety and frustration that accompany such experiences) would be a valuable asset in the work I do; as the writer on this project, writing for an audience with cognitive and sensory difficulties, it was. For example, feedback from the teachers in the special schools we visited consistently highlighted how they were surprised by the moments of silences built into the theatrical journey, and how “we never do silence.” Yet, silences, an absence of external stimulation, is essential when you’re trying to make sense of the world around you and then act upon it. Silences are much more vital to my ability to function now than before my acquired brain injury.

I am intensely proud of this project, the creative team involved, and honored to have been included in it.

My ‘Neuro-tree’ sculpture (courtesy of Dervella McNee)

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(www.dervellamcnee.com)

What I love about having such talented friends is that they make you stuff. But only if you ask really nicely. Or nearly die.

I did both.

Our friend, Dervella, is an amazing sculpture-ess/metal worker. When she was younger, she worked in an orchard for a summer. She was struck by how it was common practice to traumatize the trees (small orchards bend the branches, large orchards slash the roots) to make them think they were dying, and therefore, bear more fruit as a survival instinct.

This, combined with my own near-death experience, was a theme in the sculpture she made for me. My subdural empyema caused paralysis down my left side for about 4 weeks, the side of the body that is controlled by the right-side of the brain, which also is believed to harbour creativity. I love the idea that out of such trauma, beauty, resilience, and creative growth can happen.

She made the trunk & branches with forged steel, which she burnt black. She made the ‘leaves’ made out of crochet, based on an image of brain activity– pathways formed by neurons firing. Dervella dipped the crochet in glue and formed the hemispheres around papier-mache until they hardened. The delicate crochet (brain) is protected and held by the strong branches (steel).

It’s glorious, magical, strong, delicate, inspiring, & such a tremendous honor to have! Thank you, Derv!

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Juliano Mer-Khamis: ‘Any artistic activity has elements of therapy, of healing’ (The Guardian, 10 April 2011)

I came across this video  on The Guardian’s website while redrafting ‘Gay & Troubled?’—it resonated quite loudly, and tragically, with the interviews I’ve been re-reading.
Click here to watch the interview with Israeli-Palestinian director and Freedom Theatre founder, Juliano Mer-Khamis talking about the importance of drama as a means of coping with Israeli occupation.