All in the Mind Festival explores lived experience of mental health


Deborah Caulfield thought she knew her own mind about mental health issues. Fluid Motion Theatre Company’s All in the Mind Festival in Basingstoke on  Saturday 24th June, caused her to think again.

Artist Jo-anne Cox plays the cello against a backdrop of a blue All In The Mind poster

Jo-anne Cox performing at All In The Mind Festival

The aim of the All in the Mind Festival was to challenge preconceptions about mental health issues. I thought I knew my own mind. This festival made me think again.

First to mention is Jo-Anne Cox. Her too-short ten-minute set Welcome to my World was a joyous delight. A personality disorder isn’t all bad, she said. To demonstrate the point she handed out brightly coloured, floaty scarves for the audience to wave and sway along with the luscious live-looped melodies played on her amazing electric cello.

That was one misconception dispensed with.

Imagine explaining to kids how the brain works. I couldn’t either, until I saw (and joined in with) Little Meerkat’s Big Panic.

Based on the book by Jane Evans, this multi-sensory musical performance by Collar and Cuffs Co (Ellie Collar and Julia Simmons-Collar) uses storytelling to explain to young children what goes on in their bodies when they get scared, worried or upset; the way various messages travel between different parts of the brain and body.

It’s Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) for anxious kids and their anxious adults. With help from toy animals – meerkat, elephant, monkey and snake – and through narration, music and movement, this interactive show teaches basic breathing exercises and other fun techniques for calming down.

It was the smiles and close harmonies that got to me. I mean, when was the last time anyone gave you playdough, bubbles and soft stretchy fabric to play with? It made me miss my babies and miss a whole load of adults who didn’t take care of me when I needed them to.

Powerful stuff.

The audience for Little Meerkats Big Panic sit inside an animal enclosure

Deborah Caulfield in the foreground of the stage for Little Meerkats Big Panic

Rose and Thorn Theatre Company’s 30 thirty minute drama Sectioned contained so many messages it’s hard to know where to start. The key message was this (probably): All you need is love; and although love is the last thing you’ll get if you’re a diagnosed with mental disorder, it doesn’t have to be this way.

John Hoggett as Will. Photo © William Lailey

Three actors played all parts, of which I lost count.

The play’s author, John Hoggett, seemed perfectly cast as Will, a drugged-up mental health system survivor who’s just about managing. Despite a bullying boss, he’s holding down a job. Despite nasty homophobic neighbours, he’s keeping a roof over his head. Despite his limp libido, his partner hasn’t left him (yet).

Victoria Grace Ruskin’s overly-cool, over-worked, and under-valued community mental health workers were disturbingly convincing. As Will’s whiney, boozy step-mother, she drooled with emotional blackmail.

I was unmoved (in a good way, I think) by last-minute stand-in Felix Brunnel as Will’s annoyingly affable partner. I kept thinking (hoping?) he was about to whack his boyfriend round the head with his script. Then again, he played the psychiatrist with all the professional aloofness we see in people who believe they know it all and are paid accordingly.

Found in the local park naked (off stage, sadly) and proclaiming his message about love etc, Will is duly removed from public sight under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. The ensuing arguments between two professionals, for and against Will’s continued detention, go over his head, literally. He doesn’t see why he can’t be allowed to go home. He’s OK really.

It reminded me of the start of the film Catch 22:

Help him.
HELP him, HELP him.
Help who?
Help the bombardier.
I’m the bombardier. I’m alright.
Then help HIM, help HIM.

The solo dance piece Angst by Amanda Watkinson of Innov8 Dance was wonderfully effective and incredibly moving. Who knew that hands alone could express so much anguish and torment?

I know I wasn’t the only one in the audience who, at a horizontal moment in the sequence, had to restrain themselves from stepping onto the dance mat to offer comfort. What a relief to see Amanda smile as she took her bow.

This festival was the most excellent arts-spree I’ve attended. I crammed in as much theatre, dance, poetry, stories, and music as I could. I left brimful and wanting more.

There were a few pieces I had to miss, due to lack of time and energy. For example, Man Up, a drama about the extraordinarily high rate of suicide among men. It was performed by Itchen Sixth Form College Actors. My friend, who has learning difficulties, was deeply moved by it. She understood, she said, what ‘those poor people’ had to go through.

My friend loved the dance and the singing too. She said the festival was the best thing she’d ever been to. Maybe I’ll hire a mini-bus next time.

I understand that next year’s All in the Mind Festival will be held over two days at a larger, more central venue. This is obviously a good thing because it needs and deserves bigger audiences. However, I do hope it loses none of its small-scale advantages, chiefly its accessibility (eg no traipsing between stages) and sense of safe-space intimacy.

For more information about Fluid Motion Theatre Company: contact Leigh Johnstone, Artistic Director via  or through their website at