When the NHS fails to provide the support she needs in the aftermath of her sexual assault, an insurance claim leads to Emily being despatched to The Priory for three summer months of intensive therapy. Summer Camp for Broken People is Emily’s autobiographical show about her time there.
This is a fascinating production that’s part theatre, part performance art, part artfully delivered polemic about why our society is so poor at dealing with misogyny. The first two thirds of the piece observes Beecher exploring the physical and mental aftershocks associated with her rape at a work Christmas party. A neat set, eclectic soundtrack and clever use of projections chart her frantic efforts to cope followed by her gradual slide into recognising that she isn’t coping at all.
Emily Beecher is a skilled and engaging performer, navigating the twists and turns of the story adroitly, all the more impressive given its autobiographical nature. And while it would be easy for her to get lost in the horror, she retains a clinical curiosity about her circumstances that have allowed her to create an absorbing and thoughtful retelling of her experience of trauma, of PTSD, and eventual recovery. Along the way, she offers a fascinating reflection on the enduring puzzle that is mental ill-health, ultimately impossible to understand whether you’re looking on at someone else’s experiences or trapped in the middle of it yourself.
That said, this show is much more than ‘just’ another misery memoir. The final third of the piece sees Beecher reflecting on misogyny in all its forms, disturbingly depicted through an incident involving her nine year-old daughter. To what extent do we permit it, she asks? To what extent are we all complicit? And yet, in both her account of her own story and her reflection on her daughter’s experience, Beecher offers us hope that things don’t always have to be like this. So find a friend who likes powerful, thoughtful theatre, bring them along to this Summer Camp and let’s all figure out what we can do to make things better.