Telling Lives: The Drama of Prestwich Asylum

On October 24th, 2012, cul-de-sac theatre will present Eric Northey’s play Telling Liesat the Liverpool Medical Institute. The play is based on stories from the archives of the Prestwich Asylum, and is set at the outbreak of World War I.

Telling Lives is fiction, but is based around the lives of patients and staff who were at Prestwich when war broke out. It uses Brechtian techniques to try to raise questions about our current view of mental health, by following the fortunes of a young, idealistic Dr Perceval as he tries out his new methods to find a cure for madness. Central to his task is Lily Handley, a waitress in a temperance hotel, who, according to her medical notes, played an imaginary piano. “I found the admission photograph for Lily,” said playwright Eric, “and she was just such an extraordinary beautiful woman. When she was 21 she had a baby, out of wedlock, and that sad fact sealed her fate. She became very depressed and was confined to Prestwich, where she died thirty years later. It seemed a terrible waste. Her photo looks directly at the viewer, makes real eye contact with us, in a kind of wistful appeal. I knew I had to write something about her. It felt like an obligation.”

Telling Lives premiered at Manchester 24:7 theatre festival last year. It was nominated for Best New Writing at the Buxton Festival. It will be performed, with a short lecture on the history of the asylum movement, at the Liverpool Medical Institute, on Wednesday, 24th October at 7.00pm. Tickets £14 (£12). Ticket Office: 0151 794 6900 or email CONTED@LIV.AC.UK

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About Chris Routledge

I'm a university teacher, writer and editor, based in Lancashire in the UK. My most recent book is 'Cain's: The Story of Liverpool in a Pint', a 200-year history of Liverpool's famous Robert Cain brewery.
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