Olivia Winteringham – Delightful

All photographs: Graeme Braidwood Photography

Delightful is a piece of new writing by theatre maker Olivia Winteringham (KILN) and was commissioned by Birmingham REP as part of their New & Nurtured season 2017. It is the second, in what is to become a trilogy of works, that Olivia has created inspired and informed by medical science.  The first was A Journey Round My Skull which I collaborated on as sound designer in 2014 alongside Graeme Roses’ Direction, set and lighting design by Ben Pacey and Nick Walker as dramaturg/co-writer. For Delightful the same team were united with Nick taking on the role of director and Ben and I as designers. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Delightful is a dark and disturbing love story that sees Lenni, played by Olivia, negotiate complex relationships with her father, her dead partner, her half sister and the multiple voices she hears in her head. We were keen to find a way to present to the audience an authentic experience of voice hearing. Following a period of research and development, working with voice hearers and mental health professionals we opted to use binaural sound design as a method to recreate the traumatic experience of living with multiple voices on a daily basis. We used this technique in A Journey Round My Skull to recreate the experience of awake brain surgery. Here the audience is cast as the patient with Oliva playing the operating surgeon. However in Delightful there is a second character, Lenni’s half sister, Ella played by Megan McCormick.  Ella appears on stage as we flashback in time to provide context for the scenario but also manifests as a voice in Lenni’s head. In the central section of the piece the audience is invited to wear headphones and enter into Lenni’s head to experience her world and hear her voices. In order for the internal dialogue between Lenni and Ella to continue we placed a dummy head with binaural microphones in an offstage dressing room and Megan was then able to perform live with Olivia with both voices mixed alongside a designed soundtrack containing numerous other voices all played to the audience via the headphones.  

Listen to some excerpts of the binaural sound design here (best on headphones):

This disconcerting, disturbing experience was enhanced by Ben’s fantastic set and lighting design which saw an assemblage of chairs painted in lurid colours on a slanted platform that appeared to change colour as the lights changed.

The show was a Birmingham REP commission and was presented at The Door, Birmingham REP, 26-28 October 2017

What makes this production stand out is the use of headphones during a large portion of the show. These headphones build a realistic and immersive representation of the voices Lenni hears and how it impacts her life. Combining live and pre-recorded audio, great care has been taken to create an effective first-hand experience. It is this part of the production that will have the biggest empathetic impact.
Jeremy Ulster – Stage Talk Magazine

The elements of the production all come together to make a cohesive, powerful play that helps open a door into the reality of people who hear voices, illuminating an experience that most will, hopefully, never go through. Delightful is not exactly a delight, but an insightful theatre experience that is moving and thought provoking.
Sally Jones – Grapevine Birmingham

A completely innovative and revealing way to learn about mental health, we both learned about Lenni’s life and her experiences, and felt as if we were experiencing a great deal of it ourselves, even if just for an hour….Experiencing Lenni’s state of mind for 50 minutes was an unnerving and stressful experience, one can only imagine the difficulty of living with it always.
Lily Hughes – BurnFM