Writing OCD: an interview with the creator of 'Ladybones'

The one hour, one-woman show 'Ladybones' has taken its audience by storm with its hard-hitting yet accessible foray into the reality of living with OCD. Sophia Kypriotis had the pleasure of interviewing Sorcha McCaffery for the Arts section: Where did the first idea for 'Ladybones' come from? I think if I’d seen a play or […]

Sophia Kypriotis
9th March 2020
(c) Alex Brenner @ Pleasance
The one hour, one-woman show 'Ladybones' has taken its audience by storm with its hard-hitting yet accessible foray into the reality of living with OCD. Sophia Kypriotis had the pleasure of interviewing Sorcha McCaffery for the Arts section:

Where did the first idea for 'Ladybones' come from?

I think if I’d seen a play or a film or something about OCD when I was really struggling I would have felt less alone. I wrote 'Ladybones' because I wanted to show what OCD is truthfully like, as it’s such a misunderstood condition. It was also important to me to make the character more than just her condition. Sometimes the focus on mental illness can be about the difficulties, and I wanted this play to be about hope for recovery too.

The audience participation was really effective; when did you decide you wanted them to be involved?

As we developed the show I wanted to find a way for the audience to experience the story along with Nuala, the main character, rather than just being an onlooker. We found that by giving the audience a way of choosing whether or not to take part in this interaction by giving them a sticker put people at ease - some people love audience interaction and some people really don't so this was a way for us to invite people to watch the show in a way that works for them. It’s also been exciting for me as a performer as the interactive element makes it different every night and keeps me on my toes!

I thought the girl’s remains being that of a witch was very apt; what did you want to convey to the audience through this being the case?

The girl from the past being labelled as a witch kind of parallels the main character Nuala feeling like an outsider in the present. They are both young women who are seen as different for reasons outside of their control. I’m intrigued by the history of witchcraft and the idea of labelling women witches as a way of oppressing them, and I think we still sometimes see mental illness as something to be separated from ‘normal’ society. Nuala connects with the girl she discovers because they have both experienced isolation and feeling like they don’t belong.

In the performance I saw, an audience member called Dave gave a very funny portrayal of Nuala’s therapist Julia. What has been one of the strangest audience interactions?

Shout out to Dave! We’ve had some cracking interactive moments. There was a great moment in Edinburgh where the audience person being Julia reached out to hand me a can of Coke, lost their balance and tumbled three rows of seats (the audience managed to catch them before they fell onto the stage). It was also through a bit of audience interaction that I learned that Newcastle slang for having sex is ‘bumping uglies’. Glorious. The audience interaction has also been a lovely chance to see people’s genuine kindness and empathy.


Hot Henry reminded me a little too much of some boys I know. How much was Hot Henry based on someone you knew?

The mental health stuff in the play is all from personal experience, but there is also a dollop of imagination when it comes to the other characters. It didn't feel fair to try to exactly replicate real life people, so Hot Henry is mostly imaginary, with a flavour of actual people I have come across. I wanted him to be enjoyable and infuriating and a bit ridiculous.

There were many lines, such as “virginity is a patriarchal, social construct”, that I found very funny as they were so close to something I or one of my friends would say. How much do you think Nuala reflects you?

Nuala definitely reflects me, but she’s maybe a version of me based on a specific time in my life. I wanted her to be both caught in this struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and also a fully formed person with a vocation and complex relationships with people. She is self-assured but also trying to discover who she is in this tangle of mental illness. (Also a fun substitute for ‘losing your virginity’ is ‘making your sexual debut’. Smash the patriarchy folks.)

What did you want to achieve through using comedy to portray mental illness and OCD?

I think a lot of the time creative work that deals with mental ill health is about the darkness and the struggle of it. This is really valid but I also think it’s important to show that people living with OCD or other mental health conditions also have moments of lightness and that there is hope. I think you can gently bring people into a story with humour and then they are maybe more open to dealing with the tricky stuff because they feel they are in safer hands. I also wanted Ladybones to be an entertaining hour that explores the realities of OCD in a genuine way, and comedy is a way of connecting with people.

I understand you didn’t realise that you had OCD until you were 21; how did being diagnosed help you to better understand yourself?

Yeah, I’ve had OCD since I was tiny, but wasn't diagnosed until I was 20. Sometimes labels and diagnoses can be difficult but for me knowing that what I was dealing with was an actual condition rather than something being wrong with who I was gave me hope. When I was growing up I couldn't tell anyone about my terrifying thoughts and the compulsions that went with them because I thought everyone would ostracise me. Knowing that it was a mental health condition made it less of a frightening secret, and I discovered that recovery is possible and that I wasn't alone.

Orla was a brilliant character, I found her hilarious; what does your sister think of your portrayal of her in the play?

Orla isn't based on my real life sister (who is actually the stage manager for Ladybones!) She is a combination of a few people I’m close to, and like Hot Henry, some imagination.

How important was it for Nuala to be a queer character?

I think representation is really important and as a queer woman I didn't really see stories like mine when I was growing up so I wanted that to be an element of who Nuala is without it being the struggle or the focus of the play. I’m really glad people’s attitudes to queer folk are shifting but there is still a lot of intolerance towards LGBTQ+ people. I think the more stories we see on stage that show different queer and intersectional experiences, the better.

It’s fantastic that the play is partnered with the charity OCD UK! How did that come about, did they approach you or you them?

OCD-UK are a brilliant charity who supported me when I was really ill. They are a great resource for help and information, and I chatted to them about making the show and was delighted that they were keen to be involved. It felt important to be able to direct people who came to the show towards support, and I also wanted to represent OCD properly. I’ve had lots of conversations with people who’ve said that this show is the first time they’ve seen their own experience reflected on stage, which is so heartening.

What do you envision you will work on next?

Maybe a snack and a nap? Then I’m keen to keep creating new work - I’m a supported artist at Oldham Coliseum Theatre so I’m excited to see what collaborations this year might bring about. 'Ladybones' is my first show and I’ve learned so much about creating work as a theatre-maker. I’m also writing two plays for ALRA North drama school, auditioning for acting work and balancing the classic ups and downs of freelance life. We’ve also recorded 'Ladybones' as an audio drama on Audible if you fancy a listen!

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