Catherine Cranfield is a writer/director working with the Manchester-based Theatre Unlocked. They are performing her two-woman play, Flushed, at this year’s Fringe Festival. The Student had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about the show, and what the future looks like for Theatre Unlocked.
How long has Theatre Unlocked been performing together?
Theatre Unlocked has been performing together since December 2017. Flushed is our first production to date!
The primary setting of Flushed is in a bathroom (or rather, seven). What drew you to this particular environment?
When writing Flushed, I wanted it to be a completely open and honest account of the lives of the two sisters, Marnie and Jen, and there are few places as open and honest as the Ladies’ toilets! It’s also a lot easier for an audience to become genuinely engaged if they can relate to the story on some level, and I challenge any girl to not be able to think of either a hilarious, or hugely significant thing, which has occurred within those sacred walls. Also, boys, if you’ve ever wondered why girls go to the loo in pairs, this is your chance to find out!
The production explores a condition known as POI. For those who are less familiar—what exactly is POI, and why should we be aware?
POI stands for Premature Ovarian Insufficiency, though it is more commonly known as Premature Menopause. A woman’s menopause is a natural transition which marks the end of her menstrual period. For most women this happens between the ages of 47 and 53, yet for some it comes much earlier; POI is diagnosed when a women is below 40 years of age. Girls as young as 11 years old [can] experience hot flushes, night sweats, Osteoporosis, mood swings, anxiety, headaches, insomnia – the list really does go on. Yet as well as this, a diagnosis of POI brings the news of infertility.
The trauma of a premature menopause can be massive. Not only is the physical transition exhausting, frustrating, and at times extremely painful, [but] the emotional change can be just as intense. There is a genuine grieving process when faced with infertility, yet particularly with POI when there are no answers out there as to what exactly causes it. This sense of loss and unknown can often lead to a host of mental health conditions. A common feeling we have found when meeting women who have been diagnosed with POI is that of isolation.
The condition affects 5% of women under the age of 45, and is not exactly a ‘hot topic’ for conversation, or research. In fact, many people still do not even know what it is! This provokes a feeling that you are going it alone, and means we should all be working to raise awareness of this condition. It should not be taboo to discuss a women’s menopause in general, and it should certainly not be unheard of to support those going through it at a younger age.
What drives you to explore POI awareness through the stage?
I think there’s a real place for exploring medical issues through theatre. It provides opportunity to bring the science of it all back down to a much more approachable and human level. I would love to see much more of art and science working together to raise awareness and bring issues to new audiences. Because we are looking to get people talking about something as personal as a woman’s early menopause, it was so important that we built a character relationship that people would genuinely care about, otherwise there is no point – you may as well be on Wikipedia!
We were invited to perform Flushed at ‘Daisy Day’, an annual medical conference held by The Daisy Network at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London. This was a really special experience, as not only were we performing in front of an audience which was mostly made up of women who have been diagnosed with the condition, it was an audience who may likely not have seen their situation represented in the arts; that’s definitely been a highlight of our journey so far.
You’ve been working closely with the Daisy Network, a UK charity that deals specifically with POI awareness. How have they helped, and how can others get involved?
The Daisy Network are an absolutely incredible charity, who do so much to support young women who have been diagnosed. They are in fact the only charity in the UK which deals specifically with POI. Daisy have been hugely involved with the process pretty much from the off, and have helped with everything from script reads, to promotion, to supporting our performances as audience members. Most importantly though, through the Network we have been able to meet so many incredible women who have experience with POI, and have shared their stories with us. When working on Flushed, it was imperative that we put out an authentic and truthful piece that would educate and get people talking – it really is thanks to The Daisy Network family that we have been able to achieve this.
We have been raising money to support The Daisy Network throughout the run of Flushed, and will continue to do so throughout the Edinburgh Fringe.
What are the demands (and rewards) of a two-person show like this?
Of course, with any two hander the process can be very intense! There is not really anything you can hide behind, particularly in a play like this where there are no props, and next to no set! But fundamentally it’s been such a rewarding process. With a play like this which is very much focused on the relationship of these two characters, you get a real opportunity to go very deep into understanding them, and the world they inhabit. I also think having a fairly small cast and creative team has made us all a little family, which makes all the work a lot of fun!
Why have you chosen to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year?
Obviously, the Edinburgh Fringe is an incredible opportunity to get your work out there, and we feel strongly that Flushed is a play that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. We are also really excited just to meet lots of new people, and see as much as we possibly can!
You were recently awarded a Manchester Theatre Award after a successful sold-out run at their Fringe theatre, 53two. Are you aiming to repeat this success in Edinburgh?
We certainly are! We were lucky enough to be 53Two Theatre’s first recipients of their ‘FOUNDation’ award. Which is a bursary and support scheme set up by the theatre for creatives in the North West. If you’re ever in Manchester check 53Two out as they support some amazing work! But yes, we are aiming to repeat this success in Edinburgh for sure. It’s our first year with Underbelly and we are incredibly excited, so the aim is to smash the Fringe!
After August, what’s next?
We believe that Flushed deserves to be seen by as many people as possible, and so while there are no plans set in stone as of yet, Edinburgh won’t be the last you see of Theatre Unlocked!
Any advice you’d give to women out there who may be dealing with systems of POI?
The most important piece of advice I can give to any women dealing with the symptoms of POI is to remember that you are not alone. Whether you find comfort from friends, family, an online support group, it is all a lot less daunting if you’re not trying to deal with it all yourself. Get in touch with The Daisy Network, talk to others who understand your situation, and if they don’t understand then try your best to help them to do so.
If you could describe Flushed in three words:
Genuine. Funny. Unique.
Underbelly, Cowgate (Venue 61)
2-12, 14-26 August
More information about the work that The Daisy Network carry out can be found on their website: https://www.daisynetwork.org.uk/
Image: Theatre Unlocked