a playwright met a senior lecturer in psychiatry

Interdisciplinary conversations between artists and academics


Life in Boxes

Playwright Isabel Dixon wrote 'Life in Boxes' in response to her conversation with Maria Grazia Turri. 'Life in Boxes' is performed by Elizabeth Schenk and Chloë Wade, and directed by Adam Hemming, Director of the Space.  

This is how she got there...

Isabel Dixon
Dr Maria Grazia Turri

Isabel Dixon is a playwright and dramaturg from the South West, now based in London. She is particularly passionate about work with strong female characters, experimental form and structure, and a healthy dose of pop culture references.

Isabel trained on the Royal Court Young Writers Programme, Lyric Hammersmith Writers Group and Soho Theatre Writers Lab. Her work has been performed, read and/or developed at theatres including the Old Vic, the Arcola, RichMix and BAFTA. She is an associate artist at Althea Theatre and is part of the Royal Shakespeare Company's invited writers collective.

She is the recipient of the 2019 Adopt a Playwright Award, during which she developed her latest play Kaleidoscopes, was shortlisted for the Old Vic 12 in 2018 and 2019, and was nominated for an Origins Award for Outstanding New Work for her play Heroes at VAULT Festival 2020. She is currently working on a new play about true crime, dead girl found in woods.

Isabel is represented by United Agents: https://www.unitedagents.co.uk/isabel-dixon

Dr Maria Grazia Turri is Lecturer and Co-director of the MSc Creative Arts and Mental Health, a collaboration between the Centre for Psychiatry and the Department of Drama. She is a psychiatrist, psychoanalytic psychotherapist, theatre scholar and practitioner. 

Following completion of medical school in Padova (Italy), she obtained her DPhil (Oxford) in psychiatry in 2002. She subsequently trained in psychiatry and psychoanalytic psychotherapy in Oxford, qualifying in Medical Psychotherapy in 2011. She worked in psychiatry in the NHS for 15 years, including as Consultant Psychiatrist in Medical Psychotherapy. She is committed to promoting the contribution of the creative arts to research, education and practice in mental health.

She has a PhD in Drama from Exeter University (2015) and her research focuses on understanding processes of identification in theatre through psychoanalytic theory. Her current project is a study of the power dynamics underpinning laughter, with a particular focus on comic processes in Commedia dell’Arte, a theatre form which flourished in the early modern period across Europe. As theatre practitioner, she worked as deviser with theatre company Gaia Drama Group. She has directed children and young people devised projects.

She teaches on psychoanalysis, theatre history and theories, and the intersection between psychiatry and the arts. She has also taught in theatre-practice modules. She supervises MSc dissertations.

On 24 July 2020, Isabel and Maria, together with Adam Hemming from the Space, held their conversation
On 24 July 2020, Isabel and Maria, together with Adam Hemming from the Space, held their conversation


on accessing theatre digitally during lockdown

Has lockdown meant that more people have become aware of how important the arts are for wellbeing?

Dr Maria Grazia Turri

on artist precarity and wellbeing

Funding the arts properly and also funding practitioners properly puts them in a state to create better work, and hopefully there is a ripple effect of that wellbeing... the worry at the moment is that we'll come out with buildings unscathed but artists will be under much more pressure economically.

Isabel Dixon

against the concept of 'arts on prescription'

If we are actually aware of the importance of the arts for our emotional wellbeing, then it would give another value, including an economic value, to these activities.

Dr Maria Grazia Turri

preventive theatre?

People have such individual responses to different forms of arts... you can't really quantify it in the same way that you can with measuring how effective something like medication is, or one-on-one therapy. Art can be a really deeply emotional experience, but will resonate for very different reasons for different people, depending on what they've experienced. 

Isabel Dixon

amateur: from the Latin amare, 'to love'

The tension between the professional and the non-professional [in theatre] mirrors what happens within mental health, where a dichotimising of expertise leads to paradoxes from the point of view of service users. When you go into a service, you go to find help with your own life problems, and then you find someone who's an expert in your problems, in your story... [it creates] a dichotomous way of looking at things, which is very damaging... No knowledge should be priveleged over another knowledge in an authoritarian way. 

Dr Maria Grazia Turri

'Life in Boxes' was performed online on 21 September 2020. During the Q&A audiences asked...

did Isabel (as playwright) and Maria (as academic) have different understandings of what creativity means?

For me, this is a plea for interdisciplinarity to be the norm rather the exception... it can feel as if we are boxed into these roles, but actually the potential is for everyone of us to 'cross over'.

Dr Maria Grazia Turri

...did the actors find their characters change when limited to the zoom screen?

Letter from a Psychiatrist Turned Humble

Maria Grazia Turri wrote this piece in response to her conversation with Isabel Dixon

Isabel and Maria's conversation was facilitated by theatre venue and producing company the Space. Situated on the Isle of Dogs, the Space provides opportunities for local residents to engage with the arts and a range of platforms for performance and artist development. The Space's activities include hosting live performances, delivering workshops and performance opportunities through participatory theatre projects and bringing people together for arts festivals and special events. 

Together with Queen Mary's Centre for Public Engagement, Arts and Culture commissioned the Space to explore those topics and questions most urgent to the communities with whom the Space works. The commission represents Queen Mary's core committment to support and celebrate the critical role of arts organisations within our East End communities -- cultural and academic -- and beyond.