Girl With No Words: Listening to the language of cutting

Duxton Hotel ballroom, Wellington

09/09/2009 - 09/09/2009

Wanaka Masonic Hall, Wanaka

16/09/2009 - 20/09/2009

Carrington's Café, Auckland

08/10/2009 - 11/10/2009

Clyde War Memorial Hall,

17/10/2009 - 17/10/2009

Lake Wanaka Centre, Wanaka

04/05/2010 - 04/05/2010

St Peter's Parish Centre, Queenstown

18/10/2009 - 18/10/2009

Ilott Theatre, Wellington

06/05/2010 - 07/05/2010

Production Details

Girl With No Words – listening to the language of cutting

A multi-media theatre performance exploring the experience of mental distress and our response to it. This unique, fast-moving theatre work explores a difficult subject with energy, imagination and humour: it is provocative and hopeful.

Written, directed and performed by an Otago team of four, Gilly Pugh and John Schwarz (Four Play with Friends), Lucy O’Hagan (Festival of Colour Witches over Wanaka) and Lizzi Yates (a prize winning visual artist), the aim is to encourage the audience to think about emotional suffering and compassion. All of us have either, suffered emotional distress, had problems or supported someone else, so this play is for everyone – get tickets today!

Duxton Hotel ballroom – 6 September (private performance)
Wanaka Masonic Lodge – 16th to 20th September
Auckland, Carrington’s Café – 8th to 11th October
Clyde War Memorial Hall – 17th October
Queenstown, St Peter’s Parish Centre – 18th October

Wellington Christchurch and Dunedin 2010

Buy Tickets Online $20 each

Or call 021 154 5511


Tuesday 4 May 7.30pm. Lake Wanaka Centre
Tickets from Wanaka Fine Wines.
Thursday 6 May and Friday 7 May 2010, 8pm. Ilott theatre, Wellington Town hall
Buy Tickets Online at Or call 0800ticket or at ticketek outlets 
Seasons in Christchurch and Dunedin planned for late 2010

See review at
and listen to report on Arts on Sunday at

A moving, meaningful and valuable experience

Review by Thomas LaHood 08th May 2010

Built on foundations of storytelling convention but drawing in multimedia elements from the visual arts, musical composition and documentary film-making, Girl With No Words presents an extremely thoughtful and intelligent investigation into how we can listen to, understand and finally care for ‘cutters’ – that is, people who self-mutilate in order to appease their inner turmoil.

Work like this is very valuable; it takes the expressive quality of theatre and harnesses it in a way that directly educates and informs us. In that sense our needs as an audience are slightly different than they might be going to see a work that is constructed in a more authorial vein. Here, the committed performances take us on an emotional journey, but what we are really responding to is the level of considered thought and research that is presented to us.

Hence, although the show would benefit some quite rigorous editing, particularly in the last half-hour or so, and although the switching between different mediums prevents the drama from reaching its potential depths, we are still able to gain a totally moving, meaningful and valuable experience.

This work was funded, both in production and in touring, by Mental Health Foundation grants. Working creatively in this area can require delicacy and compromise, both in the need to approach the subject matter both sensitively and honestly, and to bridge the gaps between differing beliefs and attitudes about mental illness in the community and health industry alike. 

Girl With No Words presents a strong provocation, particularly to medical practitioners in various fields. It is tactfully delivered but firm in its intent. The plea for a compassionate, human response to this behaviour is compelling.

This play was reviewed here on Theatreview just seven months ago when it premiered in Wellington to the Conference of the Royal NZ College of General Practitioners. I have little to add to Mary-Anne Bourke’s comprehensive critique but I do thoroughly support her endorsement of its value as a resource, not only for medical practitioners, mental health consumers or interested parties, but for society at large. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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A brave piece of theatre

Review by Viv Milsom 26th Oct 2009

Girl With No Words is not easy to watch, but neither can it be easily ignored, because this is a piece of theatre which both challenges and engages its audience fully.

O’Hagan, clutching a gangling rag doll (her metaphorical self) plays the lead role of Briar, a teenage girl who ‘cuts’ herself. From her opening lines, when she announces that she has ‘secrets’ in her life, until her last soliloquy when she finally reveals her ‘secrets’, she remains convincing in her straightforward and honest under-playing of this deeply disturbed teenager.

The use of the rag doll, with her detachable limbs and head allows the actors to make powerfully physical Briar’s mental and emotional anguish, without ever resorting to sensationalism.

O’Hagen is well supported by Gilly Pugh and John Schwarz, who between them take on the various minor roles: Briar’s parents, the medical and health professionals she comes across, and her friend and confidante from school. Both actors work effectively and efficiently to bring to life the people surrounding and dealing with Briar and her suffering, and although these characters tend to be somewhat stereotypical, this is a scripting fault rather than a reflection on the actors’ ability to establish character.

The almost bare stage allows the actors to move freely, while the simple backdrop subtly suggests the various scene changes: mother’s white chintz curtains, designed to keep secrets in and prying neighbours’ eyes out, crisp white hospital screens which protect the patient from herself, and finally the white walls of the art gallery where Briar’s work is exhibited. These haunting drawings and paintings are original works by Lizzi Yates and provide a powerful visual understanding of Briar’s internal suffering. 

A large film screen upstage adds a further dimension to the on-stage action. Interviews with various health experts provide helpful background information. The actors playing these experts all create credible characters, so credible in fact that the audience is left wondering if they are indeed ‘real’ experts. They’re not, of course, but the information they share has been meticulously researched by O’Hagan, Pugh and Yates.

‘Cutting’ is the most common form of self harming and often begins in adolescence as a way of coping with internal suffering. In over 80% of cases there has been some kind of deep trauma in early childhood. Helping young people who are self harming is difficult, but not impossible. They can recover and although there are no easy answers, O’Hagan and her team are keen to leave their audience with hope.

The film screen is also used to reveal the text messaging between Briar and her girl friend from school. This allows the audience direct access to the often baffling teenage mind, as it reveals a supportive and non-judging friendship; a friendship which contrasts sharply with Briar’s relationship with her mother, who remains deeply offended by her behaviour and unable to offer her daughter the warmth and compassion she needs so badly.

Gilly Pugh, who brings discipline and clarity to her acting, also gives the audience a much appreciated release from the tension and pain being witnessed on stage, with her clear and confident singing of several original songs.

(Girl with No Words went on to Wellington where it was performed at a GPs’ conference, before returning to Wanaka for a run of five nights in mid-September).

This is a brave piece of theatre which deserves a wide audience. Never didactic, but always challenging it shows a sensitivity and intelligence which brings to life an all too common, albeit horrifying pattern of human behaviour.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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Mind-expanding and spirit-lifting

Review by Mary Anne Bourke 12th Sep 2009

Fear not, Girl With No Words: Listening to the language of cutting is not the latest sensationalist ploy contrived to lure you into the theatre, but a meticulously researched multimedia presentation that explores the voiceless expression of mental distress in a bid to expand awareness and understanding.

Opening at the Conference of the Royal NZ College of General Practitioners before embarking on a nine-week national tour, the piece asserts itself as a fresh resource in on a subject that has festered for too long under the carpet. Starting as it means to go on, it speaks as pointedly to health professionals as it will to the general public.

Lucy O’Hagan, a GP from Otago (with a specialist interest in the philosophy and ethics of medicine) works with actors Gilly Pugh and John Schwarz to present a mix of live action, documentary video, projected artwork (by Lizzi Yates) and song that takes us on the journey though the health system with a disturbed adolescent.

Briar Rose Edwards is a young woman who slices her arms with a razor blade whenever the anguish she cannot articulate becomes too much to bear. This is not a suicide attempt, nor even so much as a cry for help, but an act of survival – that no one can understand.

There is, of course, no simulation of ‘cutting’ but we see the effects of it, mostly on Briar’s brittle, perfectionist mother and hand-wringing father. That Briar persists with her self-injury in the face of interventions from a series of robotic doctors and self-satisfied therapists, as well as her peers, both supportive and destructive (in multiple roles played by Pugh and Schwarz), is a key point of the piece. It is clear that these interactions exacerbate rather than alleviate Briar’s turmoil.

The domestic and clinical drama is interspersed with documentary clips of interviews with professionals and academics giving their views on self-injury. These make for some rueful humour, as several exhibit a censorious anxiety, or resort to obfuscating jargon. An anthropologist and a sociologist offer astute – if conveniently academic – insights into the problem. Some trenchant testimonials from survivors offer hope.

Set before a pair of transparent curtains, the piece is hugely informative by virtue of the wealth of experience accessed and displayed for us. Good use is made of a few props – such as a stuffed doll with no mouth that is pulled apart – and costume accessories changed over black to denote character. The big screen slides of Lizzie Yates’ pencil drawings are highly expressive and work well as a sign of Briar’s eventual progress towards articulation.

I won’t ruin it by telling you how the story ends. Suffice to say, judicious choices have been made of the various forms of human language to demonstrate this development.

The show does occasionally leave something to be desired in terms of dramatic efficacy, e.g. Briar talks to the audience as much as anyone talks to anyone. This does not help to convey her inarticulateness. Also, the txting scenes: guys, why are they gazing at the txt on the big screen. Txters bend to the phones in their hands. Seriously, that bit sux 🙂

It is billed as being ‘collaboratively directed by The Silk Tent Theatre Company’ and I have to say I believe it occasionally suffers from not having that ‘outside eye’ to recognise ways to pull and poke it into its best shape. However, its qualities of courage and compassion go a long way towards compensating for this. And I mean that to say a lot.

It is intended to encourage us to listen and to speak, to share our stories without judging, and it definitely succeeds in what it sets out to do. In fact, it is salutary to see how far these qualities carry through and raise your consciousness – and about more than just ‘cutting’. For, while at the outset, that act might seem difficult to understand, it can also be seen as simply one of the most graphic, and perhaps most honest, manifestations of the psychological isolation and fear of self that is so often ‘medicated’ in more socially accepted or ‘cooler’ ways, such as substance or alcohol abuse.

It’s worth getting the full message that this show has to offer, so I’d encourage you to get along when it comes to a wharenui near you (click title above for details). Your mind will be expanded and your spirit lifted.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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