Dr Hills’ Casebook

Posted: Wednesday 5th May 2021

Dr Hills’ Casebook

The Cut has been home to Upshoot Theatre Company and Dr Hills' Casebook for rehearsals and filming and tickets are ON SALE.

Dr Hills’ Casebook was created in partnership between The Restoration Trust, Norfolk Record Office and UpShoot Theatre Company, with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Norfolk Archives and Heritage Development Foundation, and support from South Norfolk and Broadland District Councils.

Dr. Hill’s Casebook is a project that involves people who have experience of mental health difficulties, in the historical and cultural research, creative development and performance of a theatrical production, now to be captured on film.

The project began in March 2020, and would have concluded in a tour of the resulting play, in the Autumn of 2020. The pandemic meant that the project had to adapt to continue, over a much longer timescale, mainly online.
Today, we announce the planned streaming of a film of the play in JUNE 2021, to bring the work and lives of the staff and patients at St Andrew’s Hospital under Dr Hills, and the work of our project group, to the wider community.

A group of 13 participants have been meeting online to read and decipher original documents from St Andrew’s Hospital (Norfolk County Asylum), with guidance from researcher Richard Johnson, and material evidence from Norfolk Record Office, with the assistance of Gary Tuson, Norfolk County Archivist.
Richard Johnson had taken part in the Change Minds project in 2018, (run by The Restoration Trust and Norfolk Record Office), looking at records from St. Andrew’s Hospital, which led him to discover Dr. William Charles Hills, the Medical Superintendent from 1861-1887. Richard’s interest was ignited by ‘the humane and gentle approach that Dr. Hills took in his work’, and led to ‘what has become 2 years of research at the Norfolk Record Office into an inspiring man’. Richard produced an Aide Memoire documenting life in the asylum under Dr. Hills and is writing a biography of Dr. Hills.

The idea of creating a piece of theatre about Dr. Hills grew from Richard’s research and passion for the subject. We wanted to tell the story of how Dr. Hills cared for his many patients, in a period of great poverty and negligible health and social care.

Laura Drysdale, Director of the Restoration Trust, saw the potential in ‘telling the stories of people under Dr. Hills’s care alongside those of participants in this project, who have their own stories to tell today.’ Speaking with the directors of UpShoot Theatre Company, who produce community theatre projects and activities with the knowledge that ‘performing arts activities have a transformative impact on wellbeing’, it was decided that an arts and wellbeing project with a theatrical culmination, would be a powerful way to involve a wider range of people with heritage, as well as to comment on mental health treatment then and now.

Covid 19 has changed the delivery of this project greatly, and some of that change hasn’t been easy.

Where we would have met in person we have had to meet online; rehearsing with the actors began under very restricted circumstances and was finally cut short. The tour of the resulting play may not be performed live in the venues we had hoped without more funding, and at a much later date when restrictions ease. ‘But it was clear that this project had to continue through these difficulties, when people were, and still are, feeling most anxious and alone, and when we as a society, need to look at the best ways to ensure better mental health for everyone. We have all benefitted through our involvement in this project.’ says Darren France, Project Coordinator.

Local professional actors form the cast for the final play, written by Norwich-based writer, Belona Greenwood. The Cut in Halesworth has been our rehearsal space, where we will continue rehearsing in May, and where the film will be made against the redbrick-walled auditorium of the old mill building.

Local filmmaker Julian Claxton will film and edit the final piece. Charlotte Bird, retired theatre and film costume designer residing in Norwich, is in charge of wardrobe, with assistance from the Maddermarket’s Costume Department. Tech will be run by members of the volunteer tech team at the Fisher Theatre. Music has been composed by Roger Eno and William Drew-Batty, local musicians and composers in Bungay.

As the project has extended over a longer delivery period the team has grown to accommodate new areas. Ellen Hardy, an editor and PhD candidate Creative and Critical Writing at UEA, has joined the project on a placement supported by her funders CHASE. She will be collecting participants’ written and visual responses, to be gathered into a published collection from the participants in the project. Robert Fairclough, journalist from Lowestoft, has been writing a blog and taking pictures to accompany the journey of the project, and two Kickstart employees have joined The Restoration Trust as Digital Engager, Jojo Duchannes and Mental Health Support Worker, Bethan Bright.

The play’s director from UpShoot Theatre Company, Laila France, said ‘the excitement at being able to tell these stories and get in touch with a past that wasn’t as dismal and cruel as we are often led to believe, has been contagious. Mental health difficulties are much more freely expressed these days and this is the way we learn to deal better with them, by examining authentic human experience and sharing stories’.

The play by Belona Greenwood underwent a week of research and development with the actors and director in January, to convert the stage play into a stylised piece for film, before restrictions became prohibitive. ‘What incredible history and stories exist right here in our community, that need to be told’ said Belona, also commenting on the ‘warm, supportive and caring group that this project has brought together through a very difficult time.’

One of the participants said ‘being a part of this project and meeting people with shared experiences each week has been very supportive particularly during lockdown, which has been more isolating than ever before. There’s also the shared purpose in telling the stories of people you research and feel you must honour by getting their truth out there.’ (Anonymous participant).

Laila France summed up what this project has meant to her and others involved through the pandemic, ‘a focused light shining on past human experience, lending itself to us for comparison with the present, during totally unexpected and extraordinary times, creating such important sharing through connection, learning, discovering, untangling stories, supporting each other, and finally through making our own joint reflective response through theatre, and now film. It has been more, and brought out more from all of us, than we ever imagined.’

Thursday 17th June 2021 7.30pm

Friday 18th June 2021 7.30pm

Sunday 20th June 2021 7.30pm

Thursday 24th June 2021 7.30pm

Friday 25th June 2021 7.30pm

• The film will be streamed on 5 evenings online to the public, over 2 weeks.This will be on Facebook Live.
• The Press, and Guests of all involved in the project, are invited to the ‘Premiere’ streaming, along with members of the public.
• Each streaming will be followed by a Q&A forum on Facebook Live with members of the project, hosted by either the Director of the film, or the Project Coordinator/Producer of the film, where questions can be asked via a chat feature on Facebook Live.
• All tickets are free and can be booked on Eventbrite but the option to donate towards this project will be available at the time of booking, for which we would be very grateful, as we still hope to be able to tour a live performance of this work, once restrictions allow.
• Tickets will be booked through Eventbrite and an announcement will be made when this is open for booking, with instructions on how to watch the streaming and participate in the Q&A.