Dionne Christian is the NZ Herald’s arts and books editor

New play aims to cheer up new parents

In her play Mockingbird, Lisa Brickell explores the issue of post-natal depression.
In her play Mockingbird, Lisa Brickell explores the issue of post-natal depression.

Performer Lisa Brickell was reluctant to have children.

Brickell, who trained in theatre, mime and clowning through the famed L'Ecole Internationale de Theatre Jacques Lecoq, wasn't worried about the impact on her career nor was she overly concerned about giving birth.

What troubled her most was the thought she would experience post-natal depression, like four generations of women in her family had. Now mother to Maaui, 10, and Jessie, 7, Brickell says support from extended family, including her husband's whanau, meant she was fine.

"They basically came and took over so all I had to do with sleep, feed and cuddle my babies," she recalls. "I wasn't alone nor was I expected to do all the 'normal' stuff like shopping and ironing; to expect anyone to do all that - and we do expect that of new mothers - feels like we want them to be super-humans. I'm a firm believer in the idea that it takes a village to raise a baby."

It gave Brickell the chance to reflect on motherhood and why PND is common in New Zealand, where 15 per cent of new mothers and 7 per cent of new fathers will experience it, so when her children were older, she started crafting a theatre show to explore the issue of PND.

Now, around two years after she and musician Sarah Macombee started pulling various elements together, Mockingbird is ready for public performances. Based on true stories, Brickell uses masks, humour and physical theatre to portray various characters from different generations.

"The internalised negative thoughts or 'inner critic' of the women are personified in a half-masked character that is hilarious and horrible," she explains. "There is no 'fourth wall' allowing her to speak directly to the audience."

Brickell, who works as a clown doctor in hospitals and rest homes, sees humour as "immeasurable" when treating illness, whether mental or physical. Mockingbird became the title because it's from the well-known lullaby Hush, Little Baby as well as symbolising innocence and overcoming fear.

"It's also a metaphor for the mocking voices in the head or inner critic."

The show was originally inspired by attending a workshop with Canadian Deb Filler on comedy storytelling and it is there that Brickell and Macombee met. Deciding to join forces, show structure and text was devised followed by a performance of a shorter version of the story as part of Brickell's MA in Drama.

She then completed a week-long workshop with Italian commedia dell'arte and clowning expert Giovanni Fusetti. That led to further research and devising to bring the show to its now 60 minute length.

Brickell talked to family members and acknowledges this wasn't always easy as mental illness remains an issue some, particularly the older generation, prefer to cover up and forget about; she read letters, books, family histories and interviewed numerous people who had experienced PND.

She says we're becoming better at discussing our mental health and getting help, but a stigma remains. She hopes plays like Mockingbird assist in raising awareness and encouraging people to get help if needed.

"The show aims to reduce stigma and create awareness around mental health and depression, especially post-natal depression. It looks at how mental health approaches have developed over the last century and offers hope."

After performances at the Basement Theatre, Mockingbird travels to Te Pou - the home of Maori theatre in West Auckland's New Lynn for its annual Atawhai Festival. The festival features a number of productions and workshops about mental health.

What: Mockingbird
Where & when: Basement Theatre Studio; October 4 - 8 and Te Pou, New Lynn; October 12

Where to get help:
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
Samaritans 0800 726 666
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

- NZ Herald

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