Helena Fox- interview

Currently at Edinburgh Fringe, Blue & Pip is a queer narrative that explores the vast range of emotions that come from owning our bodies. With a focus on endometriosis and a biased healthcare system, it navigates the battle of seeking support when it feels as if nobody is listening.


Writer of the piece, Helena Fox, has beautifully answered the following questions to give us a better idea of what the show brings.

 

Please may you discuss the show a little, and what the topic of endometriosis means to you? Blue & Pip is a play following the titular couple as they try and navigate Blue’s chronic illness. It’s full of very awkward humour, as well as being really physical, both in terms of having visual representation of a loving, queer relationship, and of pain. I’m deeply passionate - and angry - about the dismissal and shrinking of the bodies and experiences of people of marginalised genders, and very used to sitting in healthcare settings feeling like I'm talking to a brick wall. Two people I’m close to underwent major surgery for gynaecological conditions in the last couple of years and I wanted to put that pain and fear and hushed voices whispering about ‘periods’ and ‘it’s just that time of the month’ into a play so we could start chipping away at the shame and miseducation that have been embedded in us and others. I also wanted to depict some of the rollercoaster of living with chronic illness.



How does the piece incorporate a modern folklore tale, with an honest reflection of the patriarchal healthcare system? The folklore aspect started from the idea that Blue and Pip are on a sort of quest, seeking answers for Blue as they navigate the illness and the obstacles they face in doing so. I incorporated an archetypal ‘wise counsel’ figure in the form of the private consultant, Dr Roundel, but this is alongside recognition of the fact that Blue only really receives this wisdom when they pay for it. This is part of the exploration of the healthcare system - so many testimonies of gynaecological healthcare mention breakthroughs when they deferred to private care, and could afford to fork out staggering amounts of money for it. The other main folk archetype in the play is the sea, which takes on a character of its own as Blue strives to reach it. This ‘journey’ takes place alongside their progression through the healthcare system. There are also a few moments in the show where the timeline is transcended and Blue moves through time and space in a slightly different way as they experience pain or reprieve. I could go on, but I will leave it to the audience to mull over any other folktale influences they notice…!


What was the process of developing the characters, and do they have any personal elements to you? I had a fairly clear idea of Blue and Pip in my mind at the very beginning and they appeared fairly well-formed to me - with Blue a laddier and sarkier countertype to Pip’s clumsy and eager humour, but both with a fierce and protective love for the other. Doctor Stone is an amalgamation of many healthcare professionals I have sat in front of in my time, while Doctor Roundel, Moira (Blue’s mother), and Dani all grew from writing their interactions with Blue and Pip. I can see elements of myself in both Blue and Pip, and was also keen to write a queer couple that ‘get’ each other and can withstand an awful lot without losing their love for each other. Their relationship is also a bit of a tribute to my partner - it’s been an amazing learning curve being with her, discovering how possible it is to sit through a hard time together, and find it really bloody difficult, and get through to the other side and be glad to have made it together.


What message about our bodies are you trying to convey through the show? I wanted to express how many different things we all carry around in our bodies at any one time: hope, pain, grief, love, trauma, anxiety, joy, children - or the absence of - and so on. I think it’s completely possible to be in love with and grateful for your body as well as hateful, bitter, or resentful, or to experience regret at the same time as resolution. The actors are brilliant at conveying such a range of physicality and it’s one of my favourite things to watch in the show.


How can a greater awareness of endometriosis be spread? I think media representation of all kinds is a good way of spreading awareness, and it’s really exciting to start seeing that happening, with the new Channel 5 show about women’s health and Conversations with Friends. I’d also say it’s important to keep having conversations with people in our circles: to myth-bust or talk openly about menstrual health and gynaecological experiences and conditions. With hostility towards trans people not abating in the UK press, I also believe in reminding people that better healthcare for trans people is necessary and doesn’t hurt or disadvantage cis folk. I hope Blue & Pip can do a little in showing that; the possibility of Blue recovering is a highly positive one for Blue and the cis characters around them.


What advice would you give to those with endometriosis, and how can others help advocate for making the healthcare system better? If I’m honest, my advice would be to seek private healthcare if possible. However, this is, of course, wildly inaccessible and imperfect advice, and I am looking forward to a time where it isn’t necessary. In the meantime, keep advocating for yourself and make sure the support network around you advocates for you, too, and know that we believe you and your pain and experiences are real and valid. Endometriosis UK is doing a lot of work to improve the lives of those with endo and sister conditions like adenomysosis. It has forums and a helpline for sufferers to seek support and community as well as campaigns to raise awareness and improve healthcare, so I would recommend their website as a starting point. We can all do justice to ourselves and to sufferers by believing that what we experience is important and deserves recognition and care.

 

Big thanks to Helena for her contributions to this wonderful interview, and to Ella Pound (producer) for her involvement in coordinating this too. Thank you for sharing such an important topic. All the best for the run!


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