Diane West thought that taking part in a pantomime would improve psychiatric patients’ wellbeing
“It was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant,” said Diane West, charge nurse at Arbury Court Psychiatric Hospital, of her recent project success.
She had had the idea for years. As a nurse at a psychiatric hospital, she considered her patients and wondered: “What could help them?” The answer was a budget production of Cinderella in which the patients would perform.
She hoped putting on the pantomime would improve patients’ self-esteem, confidence and social life.
“Everything I thought would happen, happened,” Ms West says. “There wasn’t one single incident and everyone supported each other.”
Arbury Court, in Warrington, provides medium and low secure services for women with personality disorder and mental illness. The hospital is part of the Partnerships in Care group of hospitals.
Ms West began by gaining permission from the lead nurse and gauging interest by visiting different wards.
“I spoke to patients in all the wards and asked if they would be interested and got a good response,” she says.
The next step to creating a budget production was to enlist the help of Dave McManus, the training and development officer at the hospital, who had an interest in amateur dramatics.
“So, I put up posters and sorted a date to meet in the evening with the patients when they had time for activities,” Ms West says.
When they set up the drama group, about 26 people came. Some dropped out and 15 took part in the final production.
“All the patients were asked what they wanted to do so they said Cinderella,” she says.
The patients were then asked what roles they wanted and others had roles created for them.
“The pantomime provided a good opportunity for patients and staff to work together as a team, making the whole experience very worthwhile,” Ms West says.
Preparations began in early October and Ms West devoted two hours every Thursday for three months to rehearse with the patients. A few weeks before the show, they added in a four-hour weekend rehearsal for three weekends.
“It wasn’t just me,” Ms West says. “The patients themselves committed time.”
While some patients performed, others helped with props and handing out programmes on the night of the performance. The patients chose the music and sound effects for the production and a patient with exceptional keyboard skills arranged it. The whole of Arbury Court helped by putting time and effort into the production.
“The rehearsals were really positive and they loved coming to them, even when they weren’t well,” she says.
It all came to fruition and three performances were staged. Staff, families, commissioners and other patients were invited to the production.
“Some families said it was brilliant and that they would have paid to see it,” Ms West says.
She says one of the biggest surprises was how committed the patients were and how they all worked so brilliantly together and supported
“When it all came together, I was overwhelmed because of how well they performed,” she says. “I was so proud.”
She says it had a positive impact on the patients as well. One patient was put in seclusion during the preparatory months but was so committed that she still rehearsed so she could take part in the production.
Another patient said it was really good and she enjoyed it. She said it helped her mental state and confidence and that she would like to do it again.
When the patients thanked Ms West, she felt humbled because she was helping them. “It was absolutely so fantastic so much so that I want to give more time to it,” she says.
Because the production was so successful, Ms West hopes to hold another performance this summer.
“I’d like to take it one step further and do it outside with a stage,” she says. “This is something I’m going to continue with as long as I’m able to and hopefully it becomes part of what Arbury Court does forever.”