Interview: Philippa Lawford

Philippa Lawford is an up and coming director and is currently at the Fringe with a show she conceived and directed – Eat Your Heart Out.  This show, devised by the company, called Tightrope,  under Lawford’s direction takes a look at Eating Disorders and aims to offer an optimistic outlook to those that may be experiencing one.  We spoke to Philippa this week to find out more.

Interview © Amie Taylor

AT: First of all, start by telling us a little bit about you and your journey in to working in the arts…

PL: I’ve just finished my second year of university, and most of the Tightrope team are a year or two out of uni. I want to go in to directing as a career, so have been doing as much as I can.

AT: You’ve directed and produced Eat Your Heart Out, how did this piece come about for the Fringe, where did the idea come from and how did it get started?

PL: I first decided that I wanted to do a play about eating disorders last June. I had an eating disorder for about 5 years when I was at school and I knew I wanted to make a play about it at some point, and this felt like the right moment. And then it was a long process of gathering a team together and workshopping our ideas.

AT: And what was your process of finding a team? How did you find people that you knew could draw on their experiences of having an eating disorder, but could then also withstand the process of putting their stories on stage?

PL: Only one of our cast members, Mia, was in our first round of workshops, which were for eating disorder survivors and people who currently had eating disorders. Most people in these workshops were friends of friends, though we also found people by posting on female theatre groups online.

AT: How has it been working with such personal stories? How did you create a space to look after everyone and make a strong piece of work out of it?

PL: I thought it would be difficult to work on such a personal topic. But we took it slowly, and at the very start we tried not to think too much about how good it would be, in a theatrical sense. We shared a lot. And then we refined our vision. I thought it would be more emotional than it has been. I expected to find it triggering, but I didn’t really. I think most people have found it cathartic.

AT: It’s interesting because I notice that a lot of your cast and crew identify as LGBTQ+, obviously there is a big crossover with mental health and being LGBT+, has that come up in your process as well? Have people reflected on their sexuality?

PL: This was something we discussed in our very first workshop, because although we came together because of our shared experiences of eating disorders, we also noticed that a large percentage of the room also identified as LGBT+. We discussed how, when you’re dating someone of the same sex, the way in which you look at your body and the bodies that you’re sexually attracted to can encourage you to scrutinise your body more. We have a male character in the play called Jordan, who’s gay and suffers from bulimia. Originally, it was going to be an all female play, but a friend of mine who is gay, reached out to me and said ‘you have to include the male experience’ and he was absolutely right. In the culture of toxic masculinity, it can be very hard for men to talk about their mental health.

AT: I think especially with something like eating disorders that are so often classed as a ‘cis female mental health issue’ –

PL: Yes, it’s often seen as a cis, posh, white girl right of passage. It was so important to us to not just tell that narrative, because it’s damaging to everyone else that has eating disorders if that’s the only story we’re telling.

AT: What is your hope for audiences to take away from watching?

PL: My criteria throughout this process was to create something that, if had seen it when I had an eating disorder, it might have helped me in some way. Obviously a play’s not going to make you better, but it can make you feel less alone. It can show you that there are other people who’ve gone through what you’ve been through and that you can come out of the other side. We’ve been raising money for SANE, the mental health charity. And ultimately we want to take this play out to secondary schools, because it’s difficult to get teenagers to come and see shows at the Fringe.

Eat Your Heart Out runs at Paradise in Augustines (152) until 26th August (excluding the 19th).  Book now.

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