Preparations are well under way for the premiere of Felicity Huxley-Miners’ new play In the Shadow of the Mountain, which premieres next month at the Old Red Lion. Read our interview below with Felicity about why she wanted to write about Borderline Personality Disorder and how women are taking charge culturally – and then get booking!
In the Shadow of the Mountain runs at the Old Red Lion Theatre from 15 May to 2 June 2018, with a press night on 17 May.
Rob stands on the edge of oblivion just as the chaotic Ellie careers into his life. They desperately need each other but is Ellie, who’s struggling with her own Borderline Personality Disorder, really the best person to try and help? Sometimes you can only save one person. And it’s okay if that person is you.
This touching, funny story explores a relationship born in the throes of a mental health crisis as a couple struggles to find their place in the world.
In the Shadow of the Mountain is written by Felicity Huxley-Miners who also stars, playing BPD sufferer Ellie opposite David Shears as Rob. The premiere production is directed by Richard Elson and presented by Instinct Theatre and Quantum Frolic Theatre.
In conversation with Felicity
Do you feel that you’ve faced more challenges as a female playwright?
Possibly, but I’d struggle to explain or quantify that. I create my own work and write the stories I want to see with the characters I feel should be on stage. More and more under-represented groups are taking control, and if enough of us do this together, we will change the culture that has comfortably ruled for so long.
I suppose the way it directly affects me is by always being a female playwright. I’m never just a playwright. There still seems to be this myth that female means niche, even though the majority of theatrical audiences are made up of women.
There’s a huge disparity in the number of male to female playwrights, and women’s plays are often confined to smaller stages or the studio spaces. Fringe and Off-West End venues are generally leading the way, as many take risks on unknown, female, working-class, experimental and ethnically diverse theatre.
What was your inspiration for the play?
I met a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), who was incredibly interesting and had experienced such a varied and interesting life. I went away and researched BPD and found it to be such a complex mental illness that not many people knew a great deal about.
I found a lot of useful information online but also a load of blogs and websites spewing absolute vitriol about women with BPD. They were warning other men away from anyone who has BPD, and it all seemed to come from a lack of understanding and societal influences. It really affected me.
I tried to imagine a pages and pages of blogs warning people away from anyone with depression because ‘they would just drag you down as well’ and like to think there would be uproar at anyone posting or agreeing with ignorant, blanket statements like that. But with BPD, as it’s still little talked about, this culture exists.
Speaking to psychologists and psychiatrists when I was still researching, I found that even in specialised mental health circles, some clinicians will refuse to treat certain personality disorders as there’s still so much unknown about them and treatment can vary wildly.
Writing In the Shadow of the Mountain was also a great way for me to play with gender stereotypes and show a complex, co-dependent abusive relationship. The abuse isn’t physical, it’s subtle, manifesting in controlling behaviour and psychological manipulation. But it comes from the woman instead of the man in a very destructive way.
Is society getting better at facing up to mental health challenges?
I think we’re slowly starting to get better at talking about things and breaking down the stigma which has been ingrained for so long, but there’s still a long way to go! Certain conditions seem to be ‘accepted’ more than others – that’s why I wanted to write about a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder as most portrayals in mainstream media still seem to be massively stigmatised. The play was a chance to bring an honest, unflinching look at mental illness and get away from the idea of BPD being ‘crazy bitch syndrome’ but instead a complex illness with different motivations and manifestations.
What does the title mean?
In the Shadow of the Mountain is about a couple in a brand new relationship, but both are being forced to live under the huge shadow of their mental illness. They’re both alone and feel trapped by the enormity of the idea of breaking free but both respond to this in very different ways.
Just chatting in rehearsals with (director) Richard and (actor/producer) David about what the play means and grounding it in truth has been hugely eye-opening. It’s been a very personal, emotional process sharing those stories. As a creative, you really feel the weight of responsibility if you portray that in your art.
David, who plays the main character Rob, put it really nicely. He said: “We’re all on the spectrum of mental illness, you just get diagnosed when you tick enough boxes.” And it’s true! We’ve all had some experience with our own fluctuating sanity. If one in four people experience a mental health problem each year in the UK, then either we’ve all either been there or we know someone close to us who has been there. In sharing Ellie and Rob’s story, it shows that no one is infallible.
In the Shadow of the Mountain runs from 15 May to 2 June 2018 at the Old Red Lion Theatre, 418 St John Street, London EC1V 4NJ, with performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm, and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3pm. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE TICKETS!