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Photo credit @ Sarah Cresswell

Interview: The Only Way Is Essex for The Bush

Kristin Mcilquham on bringing Headcase to The Bush Theatre’s Essex On Stage Season

(This interview was carried out ahead of the show’s run at Bush Theatre. Links have since been updated for its Edinburgh Fringe run)

A certain membr of our team might not have lived in Essex since they were very young, but they still have a soft spot for their birthplace of Romford. So when Bush Theatre announced it’s Essex on Stage Season there was a certain excietement to see what was coming to West London. One show, Kristin Mcilquham‘s Headcase certainly stood out to us, not becasue of its Essex roots but because of its examination of brain injuries.

Headcase is a surprising comedy inspired by her life after her father suffered a brain injury when she was a young child. She shares her story whilst unpicking its effects into adulthood – not least as she faces turning 40 (the age her father was when he had the brain injury). She manages to do this with such a light touch, drawing in the audience, and creating something that resonates beyond the very personal story she shares – and also highlights the often unspoken impact of brain injury on families (she’s been supported by Headway Brain Injury Charity and worked with its members).

With the show playing between 11 – 16 April, tt seemed a good time then to sit down with Kristin to find out more.

What made you decide to write a story based on your life and your father’s brain injury?

Initially as an actor I wanted to create work for myself which is why I decided to write a one-person own show.  I workshopped many ideas and I danced around telling this particular story for a while. However, growing up I wish I had seen & understood more about brain injury, I had no idea how many families were affected by it. Eventually that & finding an amazing director is what gave me the kick to tell this story. Scary though!

Did you learn anything new about brain injuries as you researched the play?

So much. I do go into that a little bit in the show, so I won’t say too much, but did you know roughly every 90 seconds someone is admitted to hospital with a brain injury? Headway brain charity has been a great source of information in my research.  I have also been lucky enough to take part in workshops with their members, who are all survivors of brain injuries, it was amazing to hear their experiences.

Has the understanding of brain injuries developed/improved much since your father’s?

Medical science has dramatically improved in the 34 years since my dad had his injury but there still isn’t enough being done. I would also like to see more support for families and carers.

The show is playing as part of Essex On Stage at Bush Theatre – do you think West London is quite ready for a proper taste of Essex?

Absolutely, have you seen the Bush’s line up? They are ready for anything.  That theatre is doing such great things.  I am delighted to be performing there.

It’s such a wonderful, intimate space which really serves this show, I often engage directly with the audience and want them to really feel like they are going on this journey with me.  

Seriously though, is there a certain Essex “feel” that distinguishes work from that part of the country? Is there something of an attempt of Essex having to shout louder to be heard when so many see it as just an extension of the East End?

What I like a lot about the Essex work I’ve seen is a lot are funny (even when you are talking about hard subjects), warm hearted, often they are working class stories & you walk away learning something. 

Havering, the area of Essex I come from, has a really low arts engagement, so it’s great to be able to be a part of Essex On Stage. Saying you are from Essex, even now, can still be met with negative connotations. I was often told when I was training as an actor to lose the accent, become more RP if I wanted to work in theatre.  Not anymore.  Essex & Proud.

And is Headcase a play that really screams “Essex” or could it easily be a play about anyone, anywhere?

I think my accent and some of the places I mention will definitely scream ESSEX, like Romford Ice Rink and the A127. Doing the R&D at the Queens Theatre was a wonderful experience, so many Essex people came up to me afterwards and said that they related or had forgotten all about some of the stuff I said.

We also go to Scotland and back to the 80s, so fear not, there really is something for everyone. Brain Injury is certainly something that affects, directly or indirectly, millions of people. 

The show, and the rest of the season, were casualties of Vault Festival; how difficult has it been getting plays to the stage when so many shows suddenly lost their slots and were left homeless?

I have been so lucky with different theatre’s offering HEADCASE a home after the Vaults cancellation.  The Queens Theatre, Trinity, the Bush Theatre & Matthew Schmolle Productions have been all been amazing in finding me a home.

Do you hope to take the play home to Essex then? Is a spot at Queen’s Theatre, who supported the development, coming soon?

We have had a couple of R&D sharing’s on the Queen’s ‘Other Stage’ but I would love to play on their main stage. The Mercury would also be a great home for it as well.  Hopefully lots of programmers will come and offer us a home in the future.  Fingers Crossed! I hope you can come.

Thanks to Kristin for finding the time to chat. Headcase played as part of Bush Theatre’s Essex On Stage Season between 11 and 16 April. More information on Headcase can be found here, while details of the rest of the season can be found here.

Headcase will be playing Edinburgh Fringe Festival from 3 – 28 August. More information and bookings can be found here.

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