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New Wolsey  Cockpit / Criterion / Arcola

Tortoise started life as a one-act play, which debuted at the New Wolsey Theatre in May 2014, as part of Pulse Festival (following a scratch performance at Rich Mix's 'Seize the Stage') a few weeks earlier), before a one-off performance at the Cockpit Theatre. An extract from the full-length play was showcased at the Criterion Theatre in the West End in November 2015, before the full-length play debuted at the Arcola Theatre in April 2016. Tortoise was developed through the Criterion Playwriting Programme and Arcola's Playwrought.

Tortoise features three very different women (a young 'wild child' with OCD, a seriously ill 30-something who has spent most of her life in hospital, and an elderly aristocrat) who have been Sectioned and are living together in a locked NHS psychiatric ward. The play covers their struggles and the bonds they form as they come to terms with why they are there and seek freedom, accidentally inciting rebellion along the way. This dark comedy explores serious contemporary issues of gender and mental health treatment.

Written by Naomi Westerman
Directed by Katherina Reinhaller (Rich Mix / New Wolsey Theatre); Naomi Westerman (Criterion); Ellen McDougall (Arcola).
With thanks to Greg Mosse and Nick Connaughton.

Previous cast includes:
Cindy-Jane Armbruster, Sarah Berger, Mai Cunningham, Lilly Driscoll, Shoni Robertson-Finn, Andrew Lawston, Melanie Lawston, Kate Sandison, and Sally Scott.

Critical Acclaim

Tortoise was shortlisted for the Leslie Scalapino Award and longlisted for the Bread & Roses Playwriting Award and the Athena Award. Diva Magazine chose it as their theatre event of the month, and an extract will be published in an anthology of female new writing.

"A well-written and rich script. The three central characters are distinctive and interesting and their individual developments and stories are very astutely revealed as the play progresses. The mental illnesses the characters are dealing with are explored with great sensitivity and the offbeat, often dark humour – particularly Nauru’s dry sarcasm – fits very well as light relief to this theme. Nauru’s speech on the psychology of horror and human responses to it is particularly poignant, as is Isobel’s ending monologue. There is also a subtle sadness and beauty in Elizabeth and George’s interactions and their dialogue quietly highlights the invisible barriers between them." The Kings Head Theatre.

"Although it deals with serious themes, it's not heavy. Rather, it is a funny and touching at the same time, breaks stereotypes about mental illness forces you to think and ask questions. [...] Very well-received." Zachodnikoniec.

"A good choice to open Seize the Stage and set the bar for the rest of the afternoon. The afternoon as a whole was quite extraordinary and we were privileged to be the first to have seen these plays. The variety and quality of the pieces performed were inspiring, reminding everyone of the talent within those four walls." FemaleArts.

The it turns out extremely friendly Bronx teenagers helped knock my handbag to the ground, albeit laughing at me, which is fair. But still the tiny thief refused to yield. He's smelled chocolate and would not give up his trophy. Alas the zipper gap was just big enough for his own body, not enough for a bag of Wal*Mart's finest Reeses' peanut butter cups.

Again and again we battled, until finally we managed together to open the zipper. Wallet keys and 15 lipbalms scattered, but all I could see was a fluffy tail bouncing up and down into the distance, bearing an orange bag larger than its owner.

Now, back in London, I feed the squirrels in the park next to my building, so tame they politely wait in circles around me and gentle take cashew nuts directly from my hand. One even knows how to walk on his hind legs.

Telling this story to a group of Americans recently, exclaiming at the difference between American and British squirrels, on Louisiana native remarked, "Yeah, we have some ratchet-ass squ'alls in America."

Ratchet Ass Squ'alls is my band name.

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