after birth: reflections on collaboration

afterbirth rehearsal - image of woman holding baby

'after birth' is a play supported in 2020-21 by the TORCH Theatres Seed Fund, now the TORCH Knowledge Exchange Innovation Fund.

The play was written by Zena Forster in collaboration with researchers at the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (NPEU) in the Nuffield Department of Population Health (NDPH), led by Dr Rachel Rowe, women with lived experience and mental health professionals. Produced by Emma Dolman and directed by Grace Duggan, the play was performed in June 2021. The cast was Samantha Robinson, Alice Vilanculo and Simon Darwen. Funding and in-kind support came from NPEU, Arts Council England, North Wall Arts Centre, Action on Postpartum Psychosis, TORCH and the University of Oxford Public Engagement with Research Seed Fund.

You can find out more about the project here. As the team prepare to take the show to VAULT Festival in 2022, Dr Rachel Rowe and Sophia Wilkinson have produced an evaluation report on the story so far. Evaluation methods included audience numbers, an online survey, phone and email interviews. Extracts are below, and further details are available on request from Ruth Moore, TORCH Theatre and Performance Officer.

"The play was conceived as a means of highlighting key research messages about maternal mental health to a wider audience, with a view to increasing awareness of the importance of mental health and wellbeing in pregnancy and after the birth of a baby, reducing stigma, encouraging women to talk about their concerns and find support, and ultimately save women’s lives. It was also important to all concerned that the play is a piece of gripping, engaging and life-affirming theatre that audience members enjoy, and find funny and uplifting."

"The overall response to after birth was incredibly positive. Those who completed the survey and/or took part in the in-depth interviews reported high levels of enjoyment. Overall, 88% of respondents strongly agreed that they had enjoyed the play and 86% strongly agreed that they had found after birth moving. The same percentage also strongly agreed that they would recommend the play to others."

"Professionally, the collaboration has opened up new and unexpected avenues of research for me, while at the same time returning me to my roots (I have an academic background in Psychology which has lain dormant for a while!). Outside of work I am a regular theatregoer, so the project has also been an opportunity to bring together the personal and professional." Rachel Rowe.

Watch this space for further news of the onward life of 'after birth'.