‘Reassembled, Slightly Askew’ in London at Battersea Arts Centre


(image by Richard Lavery/Tickle Here)

Reassembled… is off to an amazing start to its 3 week run at Battersea Arts Centre as part of their ‘A Nation’s Theatre Festival’, in which it is the only NI show to be invited to participate. It’s been in the very capable hands of NI actors, Stephen Beggs & Mary Lindsay:

Mary STephen out front

Coverage so far includes various London-based publications:

Time Out

listed as one of Time Out London’s ‘Hottest Theatre Openings’

The Arts Council NI’s website, a fantastic 4-star review from Lyn Gardner in The Guardian, a heartfelt blog post from Webcowgirl, and post-show feedback from audiences:

“If you see just one production in London this year, it should be this.”

“Profound evening…a real must-see!”

“Wow, what a thought-provoking 90 minutes, a slick and rounded arts experience.”

“Amazing… [I was] touched and impressed.”

“It is moving, beautiful, fragile and deeply important. Thank you.”

“Best binaural piece I’ve seen this year so far (you’re the 4th). “

“I felt more exposed than ever.”

“Such a deeply moving experience.”


With the show running until 28 May, there’s more feedback and reviews to come…

‘Reassembled…’ comes to London this May ’16

ANT RSA screenshotThanks to Reassembled…‘s director Anna Newell (2016 Ellen Stewart International Award Finalist for Artists and Theatre Companies Doing Socially Engaged Work with Youth), Reassembled… has been invited to be part of Battersea Arts Centre’s ‘A Nation’s Theatre Festival’ this Spring, 11-28 May.

A Nation’s Theatre Festival is a two-month celebration of theatre from around the UK from April – May 2016.  There are over 60 shows and events in the festival, across 17 London venues, performed by more than 350 artists from outside London. Reassembled… is the only production from Northern Ireland that is participating.

“It is A CELEBRATION of the UK theatre ecology, shining a light on the breadth of innovative theatre and ideas produced by companies, artists and theatres from around the nation. It’s an opportunity for London audiences and theatres to experience, recognise and champion work from around the UK. It is A PROVOCATION to encourage conversations and debate:

  • How can we reverse the flow of theatre from London out to the rest of the UK?
  • How do we encourage more arts provision outside of the capital?
  • What can theatre tell us about politics, devolution and identity?”

Tickets are available at www.bac.org.             BAC logo

Research, development and funding (2013-2015) was made possible by:

high rez logos

Focus Group Feedback

On 23 May 2014, a cross-section of individuals from the biomedical/health & social care, arts, community/voluntary sector (brain injury support) organizations attended came to The MAC (Belfast) and participated in a one-hour focus group session in which they heard two sections of a draft of Reassembled…Slightly Askew.


From General Public–

This was a powerful and enlightening piece of work. I felt frightened and nauseous in equal measure. It enabled me to empathise with Shannon and her trauma in a comparatively very short amount of time.


The audio engineering was great. You felt abstracted within the environment. The sound moved you through different realms. The voice brought you back to a place of consciousness.

It made me consciously aware of how good health care in NI is.

It was a spiritual, otherworldly experience.

Having worked in Brain Injury Services, I have some knowledge on how an ABI can impact on an individual, however, to experience it in this way was very insightful and has helped in my learning and understanding.

IMG_5457The technology could also be used to communicate how other hard to understand ailments feel to the sufferer—eg. Dementia/Alzheimers, Autism—so could have a very powerful social impact.

Trying to process what’s going on made me think about how my brain works.

I’d love to see it as a permanent installation in a hospital, a requirement in training.




From Neurosurgeons–

IMG_5453I was under the impression that empathy could not be taught, but this experience has demonstrated otherwise.

The hospital system doesn’t allow us to understand what that person’s going through. [They are] a disease entity we’re treating. We forget the humanity underneath.

I thought this was going to be something ‘arty-farty’. I had no idea it would affect me so profoundly and viscerally.

It allows you to have the patient experience without being paralyzed with fear…valuable as we are shifting to a patient-centred servic.

 A unique experience that every neurosurgeon would have to experience.

The neurosurgeons also shared that the focus group setting provided the first time they were able to chat with fellow neurosurgeons about their experiences in this way. The experience allowed them to discuss their practice, coping mechanisms and the process of going through parts of the patient journey via Reassembled, Slightly Askew prompted them to unexpected self-analysis, self-reflection and a place of consciousness of their professional competencies.




No longer a ‘recovery’ but a ‘reassemblage’

For a few months now, I’ve been contemplating how fitting Recovery is as a title, nearly 4 years on from the project’s initial conception. I always described the project as Recovery: my process of being disassembled and reassembled, slightly askew, particularly for the numerous funding applications I’ve written over the years to secure support for the project.

Similar to the actual artwork, all those years ago none of the artists involved knew what was ahead.  I certainly didn’t know what my process of pulling myself and my life together would be like, nor did the neurosurgeon, nurses, occupational therapist, neuropsychologist, physiotherapists, or my GP.

I now think that Reassembled, Slightly Askew captures main trajectory of the piece more accurately. That titles gives space for the fact that I now have a disability, which I must manage and won’t recover from. ‘Recovery’ is a word that originates from a medical model, and does not acknowledge the reality of disability, particularly a hidden one of an acquired brain injury. There are some aspects of my brain injury I may never ‘recover’ from; this is itself a personal journey that has not been an easy one to acknowledge and own (¡Viva la siesta!). I am, most definitely, reassembled, and most definitely, ‘slightly askew’. The place I was at before Mr. McConnell opened my head is not a place I can ever recover and return to.

This renaming, or clarifying, is timely, as Paul (sonic composer and sound designer) has recently finished the first full draft of the entire piece after months of development and reworking with the artistic team, guidance and feedback from the biomedical advisors, and recording with professional actors in the Sonic Lab at SARC (Queens University). It’s an exciting benchmark which propels us forward towards the 2015 tour.

Neuro-experts in the Sonic Lab (Queens University, Belfast)


Neuro-experts in the Sonic Lab (Queens University, Belfast)

RS McConnell (Consultant Neurosurgeon) and Colin Williamson (Head Injury Liaison Nurse) from the Royal Victoria Hospital Belfast experience a brief introduction to psychoacoustics (how the brain perceives sound) by Dr Paul Stapleton in the Sonic Lab at Queens. The Sonic Lab has the unique capability of sending sound 360 degrees around the room. Paul led Mr McConnell and Colin through an exercise where they had to pinpoint where the sound was coming from, highlighting the perceptual restrictions we have when locating sound when our eyes are closed.



Superbowl Sunday, sports & Brain Trauma

Superbowl Sunday was yesterday. The Six Nations Rugby tournament also began this weekend. Micheal Schumacher, former F1 champion race car driver, remains in a coma from a skiing accident in December. Channel 4 is approaching its finale of The Jump, a TV show in honor of the Winter Olympics where celebrities compete in a range of winter sports, including the bobsled which caused one contestant such a bad head injury that she had to pull out of the competition.

Brain injury is everywhere, and not just because I have one. According to brain injury charity, Headway, brain injury is the biggest cause of disability globally.

In her recent NPR article, Sidelined By Brain Injury, Ex-NFL Player Copes With ‘Desperation’, author Melissa Block states, “Hundreds of other NFL players have been diagnosed with far more serious conditions: dementia, ALS, Parkinson’s and severe cognitive decline.” This NY Times article from December 2012, contains images of athletes’ brains and shows how repeated concussions and brain trauma affects the brain tissue.

I had a ‘bad brain day’ the other day. It took me by surprise because I hadn’t had one this bad in a while. It was one of those that cut me and my ambitions back down to size where I woke up nearly more exhausted than when I went to bed the night before, where I couldn’t get started on any activity because I couldn’t figure out (or maintain concentration to figure out) the best way to start, continue, and complete an activity, where I couldn’t find my words and when I did, I couldn’t articulate a train of thought in a linear fashion. The apartment was littered with my half-started, distracted and abandoned good intentions. No amount of scheduling or to-do-listing would pull me out of it. Eventually, I had to surrender my ego  and succumb to the fuzziness. It’s not easy in a world where your worth is silently measured in activity and productivity, and ‘I’m so tired!‘ is proclaimed like a vocational medal rather than the non-negotiable reality of a brain injury survivor’s utter fatigue. Though my initial brain trauma was 5 years ago and I’m tremendously lucky to have made progress, the most exciting of which is the Wellcome Trust Small Arts Award to make a sonic-arts-based artwork that brings audiences inside my head, these bad brain days remind me that I’m not, and may never be, fully ‘recovered’. At best, I am reassembled, slightly askew.

I am far from the only individual living with an acquired brain injury, but in the middle of a fuzzy, bad brain day, looking completely capable from the outside, it certainly doesn’t feel like it.

‘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.

‘Recovery’ coverage

In chronological order…


My soapbox moment at the recent Arts & Disability Forum launch:

“I believe Recovery has tremendous potential in the arts, the health and social care sector, and the opportunities where they overlap. The combination of sonic arts technology, movement, sound and dramatic narrative has resulted in a new genre of performance. Recovery’s story of an individual’s experience of brain injury can be used as a resource for doctors, nurses, and social care professionals to increase their understanding of what their patients may be experiencing. It can also be used as a resource for families and friends of brain injury survivors, as well as those living with brain injuries as a stimulus to discuss their own experiences.

Strategically, Recovery can be linked into the policy and service development work done across Northern Ireland by DHSSPS and its Regional Acquired Brain Injury Group (established June 2010), and the annual Brain Injury Awareness Raising week organized by the individual Health Trusts. It also provides a unique opportunity for assessors on the Disability Living Allowance panels to increase their understanding of brain injury and how a hidden disability affects the individual on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, nearly everyone knows someone (either personally or professionally) who has experienced some sort of brain trauma (stroke, neurological condition affecting the nervous system, brain aneurism, blood clot, brain damage from an accident, brain tumor, etc). No two cases of neurological trauma are exactly the same, some share common symptoms; but all can’t be fully understood by anyone other than the individual experiencing it.

Recovery begins to bridge that gap.”

And the response from Health Minister Poots to my invite to the ADF launch: Image

Not nearly as robust a response as I would like, but a response. A seed planted, perhaps…

‘Recovery’ sells out at Pick N Mix 2012!

What a fantastic weekend of new theatre to be part of! And how fantastic that ‘Recovery’ TOTALLY SOLD OUT! There was a great buzz about it, which leads nicely into its month-long residency around the corner at Arts & Disability Forum‘s Gallery space where it will be from 14 June (launch night 6-8pm) until 11 July (Gallery opening hours: Tues-Fri, 11am-3pm; free admission)

(Behold, biosensory-artist-in-the-role-of-nurse, Jiann who was just amazing!)

Image of nurseAnd some feedback from the 50+ people that came to the show:

“Stunning experience…brilliantly realised.”

“Brilliant. I think every medical/nursing student should listen to something like this so they can really understand what goes on with patients.”

“Unlike anything else I’ve experienced or gone to.”

“I became aware of how many people suffer from brain disease and yet I think of it as rare.”

“Like getting inside, right inside, somebody else’s head.”

“Recovery was a really moving an affecting experience. Great work.”

“My palms were sweating and my heart pumping!”

“I want to know more on her road to recovery.”

“Honest and direct. Hope this show travels!”

“Was that all REAL?”

“A privileged insight into the thoughts and sounds of a ‘very sick girl’.”

“I really liked that this was an individual experience, one person at a time in the hospital room setting.”

“Immersive, troubling, follow-able but challenging, beautifully constructed…”

“Quite relaxing in a strange sort of way…”

“A roller coaster ride of emotions.”

“So well done and I wish you the very best with the show. Curious to know more.”

“Powerful, moving, emotional, informative, funny!”

“It was an intense experience that really immerses you into another world. I loved the fact your senses were heightened further by the fact your eyes are covered and you become totally encompassed in the story. My body definitely responded to what I was hearing.”

“I really liked that I was asked about whether I had experienced anyone close to me having been affected by stroke, etc. It instantly connected me with the piece. Being in the hospital bed and having the nurse really put me in the story instantly.”

“This is a stellar piece of work.”

“Wow…just WOW…”

So what’s next for Recovery? Funding applications.

Pick N Mix was a fantastic opportunity to test out the technology and the dramatic conventions we established in the studio for the first quarter of the story, the ‘being disassembled’ part (courtesy of the ADAI grant). The remaining three-quarters of the story, the ‘reassembled, slightly askew’ part, has been mapped out with the team so we are ready to get back into the studio to explore and produce it.

Another area we’re excited about that we haven’t explored yet with the technology is the paralysis section of my time in the hospital– how can sound and its vibrations be used to re-create my experience of being paralyzed down the left side of my body during those first few weeks post-surgery? We have some ideas….!

ADF logo - no shadow arts council - lotteryAnCE logo 2009

‘Recovery’ goes public…

Delighted that ‘Recovery’ has been accepted to this year’s Pick N Mix festival at the new MAC in Belfast! It will be tested out with other theatrical works-in-progress during the first weekend in June.

Afterwards, ‘Recovery’ will be exhibited at the Arts & Disability Forum Gallery on Royal Avenue for the remainder of June; without the support of Arts & Disability Forum’s Arts & Disability Award Ireland, this public sharing of progress to date would not be possible.

‘Recovery’ has been supported by a grant from the Arts & Disability Awards Ireland scheme, funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaion, managed by the Arts & Disability Forum.