Writing is a fantastic form of therapy. Since discovering I suffer from OCD, I’ve found that putting pen to paper comforts me when my thoughts are overwhelming. It also gives me a profound sense of having achieved something tangible. But OCD isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ condition; it’s as individual as our DNA.
Laura Crow is a writer, producer and founder of Time & Again, a new theatre company exploring modern interpretations of the historical, vintage and antiquarian. She’s also a fellow sufferer of OCD and originally wrote the play Greyhounds as a distraction during a low period of mental health.
“My OCD is at its worst when my mind has less to focus on,” says Crow. “Consequently, night-time, when I’m trying to sleep, becomes difficult. So I started thinking of things to distract me and then I started jotting down ideas and writing a few lines that struck me. I felt better when my mind was back in the 1940s mapping out the lives of these characters. It left less time to dwell on unpleasant thoughts. It occupied my attention and stopped it wandering onto rituals. If I’m plotting out a play I’m less likely to focus on the lampshade that needs straightening or thinking about all the disasters that might happen if I don’t do it.”
Greyhounds is a cleverly-written portrayal of life 1940s Britain – a time when ordinary people had to do extraordinary things. Set in the fictional village of Shuttlefield, Greyhounds takes place during the years of World War Two and is split into two acts: Spring 1941 and May 8, 1945 (VE Day). Act one begins jovially. The characters are doing their bit for the war effort and staging a play – Shakespeare’s Henry V – while attempting to navigate the changing world around them. Act two sees the players much altered – time has passed, and the war has transformed them all.
Mirroring Shakespeare’s history play, which focuses on events immediately before and after the Battle of Agincourt (1415) during the Hundred Years’ War, Greyhounds intersperses famous lines with Crow’s words. Each character, with a part in the village play, delivers a rousing monologue, illuminated by a harsh red light, and draws parallels between the two texts.
Crow plays Katherine, the brilliant ‘outsider’. Did she find this exploration cathartic?
“I relate to her so much but she’s also different from me in some ways. I’m not a mathematical genius unfortunately. People find Katherine strange, and she doesn’t know how to fit in or understand the social niceties everyone else seems so good at. These are feelings I’ve had plenty of times. I loved writing her journey and showing what she could achieve. And she did help me to understand myself better. During rehearsals, we’ve spotted themes and ideas in her words that I didn’t even realise I was putting in but makes so much sense. She says at one point ‘what’s the point of it all if you’re not remembered?’ and I guess that resonates a lot. And she asks ‘why?’ a lot. Why do we do so many things, as human beings, for the sake of politeness or social convention, that actually makes everything so much harder.”
The small studio space at Altrincham Garrick Playhouse feels like the inside of an air raid shelter. It’s dimly lit, and the audience sits in close quarters. The staging is intimate and domestic: a kitchen and a small rehearsal room. Wartime posters are tacked to the wall, music permeates the air, transporting us back in time, and there are more vintage togs than a Northern Quarter shop.
“I suppose I’m drawn to the sense of courage and steely determination that ran through the country,” says Crow when asked about her interest in the era. “And, let’s be honest, the fashion is just stunning, too. Red lipstick is a daily staple of mine.”
But there is one minor snag – and this is probably me being picky. The narrative is drawn-out, and the play is probably a half hour too long. At times I felt my attention beginning to wane which is a shame because Crow is a gifted storyteller and I genuinely enjoyed the tale. Greyhounds manages to capture the historical tale – life on the 1940s home front – with human experience (love, loss, unfilled potential) and merges these with political themes that are extremely relevant to modern life – the notion of ‘the other’, the morality of war and how society treats those with mental health conditions.
All this is great but sometimes less is more, and it’s an ambitious play. But this ambition is to be lauded. Greyhounds enjoyed sell-out shows as part of last year’s Greater Manchester Fringe and Time & Again Theatre is now setting its sights on the Edinburgh Fringe.
Crow says: “Edinburgh is a huge stepping stone for us. We’ve all dreamt of performing there and taking part in such an important festival. I think all actors want to perform at the fringe at least once in their lives, it’s like a rite of passage. And you never know who might get to see your work. I’m so, so excited but I know I’ll get progressively more nervous the nearer it gets – not about performing – being on stage is one of the only times that I don’t have nagging worries constantly in my mind – but about all the logistics and thinking all the ‘what ifs?’ and potential disasters.”
The play has been described as “an exploration of the nature of courage and personal fulfilment”. I know that when I was at my most unwell, I couldn’t imagine returning to my ‘ordinary’ life. It felt impossible. Is writing, producing and starring in Greyhounds Crow’s own personal fulfilment?
“It feels like a huge step in the right direction,” she admits. “I don’t know if it’s my OCD or just who I am as a person, but I always want to be better, to go further. I wrote Greyhounds with the goal of getting to stage it one day, and then I aimed for the Manchester Fringe. It was so much fun and effort and such a buzz when we’d put it on successfully and were asked to do a second run. Then we talked almost jokingly of Edinburgh but now we’re going because I threw myself into the idea. I think I’d like to turn the Greyhounds world into a TV script next and start submitting it, as well as finish writing my second play that Time & Again will hopefully – possibly, maybe – put on next.
In a story that mirrors my own experience with the illness, Crow adds: “I don’t normally talk about my OCD and even some of my close friends don’t know I have it. But I’m trying hard to be more open about it and break some of the stigma. I hope writing and portraying a strong character like Katherine will also help people’s understanding. She clearly has her demons but ultimately does the most important war work of any of the characters and finds her own way or reaching out and connecting to someone.”
Time & Again are crowdfunding via Indiegogo to help raise much needed funds for Edinburgh. This goes towards covering costs (it will cost at least £6,000) and to pay actors for their time and effort. There are plenty of perks on offer in exchange for donations including vintage postcards, replica gas mask boxes and enamel pins of Shakespeare. For more information or to make a donation, click here.