A powerful new play about postnatal depression comes to the Unity next month.
The Brink reflects the real-life story of its writer, high school teacher Helen Jeffery. She was compelled to share her experience with the aim of helping others suffering through similar, and hopes to tour the piece and take it to the Edinburgh Fringe to spread its message.
Southport-based Helen has a background in acting and a passion for theatre that began as a member of Clwyd youth theatre growing up.
“I had always written pieces for my students, but nothing for a wider audience,” she says of The Brink. “I had been thinking about what happened to me and postnatal illness felt natural to write about. And I felt it needed to be a true story to reach out to people.”
A recent graduate of the Everyman’s playwriting programme, initially she thought about writing The Brink as a verbatim piece, and interviewed a range of different people who had been affected by postnatal depression.
Supported by NHS initiative Improving Me, The Brink – which eventually became a monologue, debuted at The Lantern last year with actress Leanne Martin (Broken Biscuits) in the role of new mum Holly.
The venue’s artistic director Margaret Connell soon volunteered to direct the show, which became part of the programme of this year’s Shiny New festival; it was also performed at the Greater Manchester Fringe, the Theatre 503 Festival in London, and back home at an Everyman scratch night.
“There’s a gallows humour to it, but it is ultimately uplifting,” Helen says. “The more people talk about the issue, you realise how common it is.”
Helen gave birth to her daughter in 2007, following a long and traumatic labour. “Until you’ve had a child, you’ve no idea how much life is going to change,” she said. “But very quickly I knew that something was wrong, and it was not just the baby blues. I was a confident, organised career woman, and for me, it was such a shock.”
Becoming increasingly anxious about protecting and being able to care for the baby, the added stress of organising her own wedding just weeks after her little girl’s arrival helped contribute to an eventual breakdown.
A combination of treatments including medication, talking therapy and practicing mindfulness, as well as a good support network, helped Helen get back on track.
She went on to have a son, now four, without suffering postnatal depression a second time. She wants to show other women that with the right care, it is possible to come out the other side.
The Brink is now being developed for the Unity stage and expanded into a two-hander, to also provide an insight into a dad’s side of the story of dealing with a partner suffering postnatal illness. Danny Taylor (Blood Brothers, The Tommy Cooper Show, Lennon Through a Glass Onion) is on board, and composing original songs for the show.
For Helen, the message she wants to get across is clear: “Mental illness doesn’t discriminate,” she says. “It can happen to anybody and there’s still a big stigma.”
The Brink is on at the Unity on September 20. For tickets and information click here.
Helen is also looking for potential sponsors or other support to help the show get to the Edinburgh Fringe next year. Find her on Twitter at @errohemi.