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Not Quite Right: Using theatre to have difficult conversations

In this excerpt of a chat we had, Dr Anne Kilgallen, chief executive of the Western Health and Social Care Trust discusses the power of forum theatre.

In November 2018, the Western Health and Social Care Trust hosted a Not Quite Right interactive workshop in Derry, Northern Ireland.

It was part of a series of workshops run by THIS Institute and Menagerie Theatre Company that used a technique called ‘forum theatre’ to let the audience stop and rewind the performance, interact with the characters, and change how scenes unfolded. Trust staff, patients and carers were invited to watch Not Quite Right performed live, consider the research that underpins the healthcare system, and put their own stamp on Chris’ story.

In this excerpt from a chat we had, Western Trust chief executive Dr Anne Kilgallen discusses Not Quite Right, the power of forum theatre, and her impressions of the workshop.


What was your reaction when you first saw Not Quite Right performed?

I thought it was a strong, believable story. It’s incredibly human. These were behaviours that I recognised, both from patients and care providers. It was very powerful, and didn’t feel in the least bit staged.

Did you know much about forum theatre before the workshop?

No I didn’t, and nothing prepared me for the experience. Going in, I thought we would see a piece of theatre that would be though-provoking and then we would have a facilitated discussion about what we observed.

That would have been very good. But, in fact, we were able to edit and change the performance. We could feed back to the performers and ask them to do things differently, and members of audience were even able to help act scenes out. That ability to interact was very powerful. I didn’t expect the experience to be as engaging as it was.

Why did you decide to bring the workshop to your trust?

I’m passionate about involving patients and staff in research, and in the improvement of our care. I felt this would be a different way of opening up conversations about what it’s like to provide care and receive care. And that’s what it offered – a unique way into a really important discussion about how we are with each other.

Did you experience any challenges hosting the event or getting people to attend?

It was hard to know how to advertise it. It’s one of those things that, once you’ve been, you would rush back. But it’s a very unique concept that can be hard to explain if you haven’t seen it. And in a hospital context, it’s unusual to bring people together around theatre.

We actually had an excellent audience on the day, though, including a mix of staff from multidisciplinary backgrounds and a wide range of patients from across our geography.

Why was it so important to invite patients and carers, in addition to staff?

For me, the real magic was in bringing together both patients and staff, rather than one group or the other. That’s what I really wanted to do.

The diversity of perspectives was really evident, but I think the distinction between staff and patient became less important as the show went on, because it was such a human story. The people were so real, and I think everybody could equally imagine themselves in either of those roles. It was very powerful in that regard for breaking down barriers.

What were your impressions of how the workshop went?

People really enjoyed it. The audience was highly engaged. It was lovely to see people relax and speak openly about their experiences, both as providers and as receivers or partners in care.

Some of the patients thanked me for the opportunity to attend. And staff said they appreciated being able to have conversations that could, in other circumstances, be quite controversial or give rise to defensiveness.

One or two members of staff told me it was a great opportunity to talk about different experiences in a very open and human way. And in the busyness of healthcare, moments like that – where you can sit down with a diverse group and talk about important matters of health and outcomes – are quite rare.

What do you hope participants took away from the workshop?

I think it really brought people back to the humanity of this business. We left the room with a renewed sense of the value of connecting with people as human beings first, instead of just responding to their symptoms and conditions.

I think we need to tap into the energy from that room. I’m thoughtful about how we can use theatre to bring people together and consider different challenges that we face in our organisation. This was a first step for us – and a very unique step – in a broader conversation.

Experience it for yourself

Not quite right - ChrisNot Quite Right was first performed at our launch event in January 2018, and then as a series of interactive workshops with NHS staff, patients, and carers across the UK.

Now we’ve captured the essence of those performances in an interactive video so you can follow Chris on his journey through the NHS.

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