preview: DELIRIUM

Victoria Hume 1CONSISTENTLY INTERESTING SINGER-SONGWRITER VICTORIA HUME PERFORMS DELIRIUM – HER NEW “SERIES OF SONGS ABOUT HALLUCINATIONS AND INTENSIVE CARE” – IN LONDON ON 19TH AND 20TH JUNE.
It has been estimated that up to 80% of people treated in intensive care units will experience delirium, and Victoria’s song-cycle is based around the results of interviews she’s conducted with some of those who have been through this profound and disturbing experience.
DELIRIUM’s first performances will take place in The Old Operating Theatre, a 17th-Century surgery and herb garret, during London Creativity & Wellbeing Week – a capital-wide celebration of work which crosses the boundaries between arts and health. Victoria spoke to The Mouth Magazine about the event.

DELIRIUM IS A COMMONLY USED WORD – BUT WHAT DOES IT ACTUALLY MEAN? 
Basically it’s a state many people enter when they’re in intensive care units – in the US they estimate that 80% of people in ITUs (Intensive Therapy Units) will be delirious at some point. Delirium is called an ‘acute confusional state’ and is characterised by, amongst other things, an inability to concentrate. When I started this project, I equated it with hallucinations, but I’ve since discovered that although people do often hallucinate when they’re delirious, it’s more an overlap between two things than a subdivision. Though I’ve kept the name, the show has become more about hallucinations than delirium…

WHAT ARE YOUR AIMS AND OBJECTIVES FOR THE SHOW?
It’s a great way to push my songwriting a bit, to try a different approach, and to work with two really fantastic musicians. But, primarily, it’s about exploring an area I find really fascinating. Though I don’t long to go into ITU as a result, the existential crises that seem sometimes to accompany many people’s hallucinations don’t frighten me quite as much now I’ve spent so long listening to people’s stories and trying to work out what I think (very subjectively) is going on. It’s an area I feel is largely unknown – we’re brilliant at patching up the body but the mind gets left behind so often.

THERE ARE TRANSCRIPTS AND NOTES ON YOUR WEBSITE FROM THE INTERVIEWS YOU CONDUCTED – IT WAS FASCINATING TO READ THOSE STORIES…
Many many people develop post-traumatic stress disorder after ITU, and hallucinations and delirium are a big part of that. But we know so little about this – some people think they’ve gone mad and are too frightened to talk about their experiences – which of course increases the chances of PTSD. With the notable exception of Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust’s truly brilliant ITU follow-up service, the NHS is at the very early stages of considering what support people need to help them through this experience.

THE VENUE IS PARTICULARLY SPECIAL…
It’s amazing. I recommend anyone go there next time they’re in town. It’s an 18th century operating theatre – it was lost for many years and rediscovered 50 years ago. There’s sawdust under the floorboards to stop blood dripping through the ceiling of the chapel below… and other gory delights… But it feels very apt for this show. Because although we’ve moved on in many ways from the brutality of early surgery, the trauma is still there when one goes through a major crisis like this. It’s just better hidden. You can’t see the effects of hallucinations like physical scars – but, my God, they are there…

Old Operating TheatreWHAT WAS YOUR MOTIVATION BEHIND WRITING AND STAGING A SHOW THEMED AROUND THAT?
I curated a project a few years ago with a photographer (Tim Wainwright) and sound artist (John Wynne) which focused on transplantation – one of the things that came up again and again was people’s experience of ITU and how significant a role the hallucinations played in it. The hallucinations also seemed notably ‘poetic’ – complex metaphors for what people were going through. I was fascinated by that and wanted to come back to it for a song cycle…

 … YOU’RE PERFORMING SONGS SPECIFICALLY WRITTEN FOR THIS…
Yes, I’ve written 15 short songs, and they’ll be interspersed with interviews. Some are basically versions of people’s stories, but they all deal with the themes I felt came out through all the interviews – hubris, trust, fear, mortality, loneliness… and quite a lot of humour and beauty as well. I’m performing them (voice, keys) with Quinta (voice, viola, saw, keys) and Chris Reed (voice, guitar)  – who are both amazing musicians.

HOW HAS THE PROCESS OF DEVELOPING THE SHOW BEEN?
Pretty full-on! I’ve been planning it since early last year. Lots of research, thinking about it all – reading Dante (!), writing the blog. Putting in the funding application to the Women Make Music Fund (PRS for Music Foundation). Interviewing 13 very generous people, which was fascinating…

WILL YOU BE TAKING DELIRIUM ELSEWHERE?
Yes, we’re playing excerpts at the closing party of London Creativity & Wellbeing Week (creativityandwellbeing.org.uk) on 21st June, then the whole performance at the international Culture, Health & Wellbeing conference in Bristol on 25th June. I’m doing a shorter solo version in Manchester as part of Manchester Met University’s Arts for Health programme on 8th July, connected to a fantastic-sounding exhibition about death. I really want to take it to some medical conferences later in the year. And we’re very much hoping to record it over the summer. I’d love to do more performances… Any interested venues please get in touch!

The Old Operating Theatre, Museum & Herb Garret, 9a St. Thomas St, LONDON, SE1 9RY
Doors: 6.30pm  /  Performance: 7pm-8pm (apprx)  /  Drinks in the herb garret: 8-9pm