MSc Thesis: Mental Health in Scottish Theatre

Below is the abstract of my Edinburgh MSc thesis, and a link to a pdf of the full text.

I hope that this might be useful to people looking at Scottish Mental Health policy, as well as students studying Neilson’s plays, or just people interested in the range of activities that comprise ‘mental health in theatre’.

I’ll probably make some attempt to get some of this published, so any feedback is very, very welcome.


How Theatre NEMO and Anthony Neilson use drama to challenge perceptions of mental ill health in Scotland 2003-2010.

Despite a continued interest in the study of power-relations and discourse following Michel Foucault’s work on psychiatric power in society, there has been little attempt to examine the representation of mental illness in literature and culture as anything other than an artistic trope. This thesis examines the specific ways that performances have engaged with mental health discourses in Scotland since the passing of the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003. By reading Anthony Neilson’s The Wonderful World of Dissocia and Theatre NEMO’s Does Anyone Know in the light of Scottish policy discourse, the thesis draws attention to the potentials and limitations of performance as a medium for engaging with the issues facing mental health service-users. This includes the impact of physical presence in performance and the risks of falling into conventional, stereotyped views of madness. By doing this, the thesis exposes the extent to which the power-relations within the mental health system are related to mental distress, as well as the ways that transformational strategies in performance can have a positive impact in revealing and challenging these power-structures.

Full text [pdf] available here

Bethlem Hospital Archives

I’ve recently discovered this excellent resource for the history of madness, or just for general interest – the online archive for the Bethlem Royal Hospital, otherwise known as Bedlam.

I came across it while attempting to verify the existence of a document called a ‘Petition of the Poor Distracted Folk of Bedlam’, supposedly composed by patients and submitted to the House of Lords. Although widely reported (including a reference in the book Personal Development and Clinical Psychology), the document does not appear in Bethlem’s archives, and as far as the archivist, Colin Gale, knows, it is a ‘phantom reference’.

However, even if the first genuine patient perspective of Bedlam dates from as late as 1818, as Gale suggests, the other materials in the Bethlem archives include case notes from the early twentieth century, and a list of admissions from the late 1600s, as well as other materials, many of which have been scanned with the support of the Wellcome Trust and are free to view online.