‘They call me Mum. Everyone calls me Mum now. Or Mummy. I had a name before. Where did that go?’ We talk to amazing actress, writer and mum of two, Katie Guicciardi about her brutally honest one-woman play ‘FOX’ that explores the challenges of new motherhood, postnatal depression, isolation and homelessness.
What inspired you to create your show ‘Fox’?
When I had my first child, we were living in a one bedroom first floor flat in Clapton, London E5. I was absolutely euphoric, if a little shocked at the amount of feeding required and the lack of sleep. One day, an ordinary looking man came and sat on the wall outside the flat and remained sitting there for a month. He sat there all day and lay down and slept there at night. The window of our living room faced him directly and I watched him from above as I sat feeding my baby, day and night.
I experienced many different feelings towards him and about him, alongside a deep curiousity; including fear, pity, worry, anger, warmth and rejection. I began writing about the experience in snippets to try to make sense of it. Meanwhile, a few close friends of mine who had had babies at the same time as me, began experiencing fairly severe symptoms of postnatal depression.
I remember feeling shocked at my own ignorance and unawareness of the topic and of the experience they were having. How could I feel so good and they feel so bad? Our circumstances were similar – planned babies, good pregnancies, healthy births, no history of mental health issues and family support. How had I not been prepared for this very common condition that could have easily afflicted me as anyone else? Why had no one told me about this? That is when I decided that the play would be a great vehicle to do just that.
What is ‘Fox’ about?
‘Fox’ is a play about help in our society – who needs it, who gets it and how we ask for it. It’s about a new mother who is in early matrescence, adjusting to her new role in the world as a mother. She has caring parents but they live far away and she doesn’t want to worry them and a loving husband who works long hours and travels for work. She is alone most days with the baby and slowly begins to spiral into a state of depression. She struggles with loneliness, anxiety, intrusive thoughts and loss of identity. She tries to distract herself by watching the homeless man outside the window and thinking of ways to help him, until one day he is gone and she comes to realise that it is her who needs the help.
How did your own experiences shape the show?
Well, the show began with me writing my own lived experience in real time – a new mum watching the homeless man living outside her flat. It then became a study of my friends’ experiences and that of so many women, through research and discussion. I of course drew on my own experiences of early motherhood – even though I didn’t experience any mental health issues and would describe my experience as a positive one, there were certainly things to relate to – isolation, loss of self, exhaustion, boredom, sleep deprivation, loneliness etc, so I was able to take those feelings and enhance them for this character. I also chose to write my own experience of miscarriage into the show – another example of an unspoken topic that I wanted to highlight.
What was my lightbulb moment in the writing process?
As obvious as it seems, the lightbulb moment was when I realised how seamlessly the two topics of the homeless man and the new mother could fit together. I had received an email out of the blue from a close friend’s mother who was reaching out to her daughter’s friends to say that she wasn’t doing well and needed help and support. This shocked me and brought to light how common postnatal mental health issues are and it clicked that I could help raise awareness through the show which then really gained momentum and wrote itself.
Fox explores postnatal depression and miscarriage. How did you research this? Did you consult with any experts?
Yes. As well as witnessing my friend’s experience of it and discussing it first hand, I also spent a long time researching via books and the internet. We partnered up with a charity called ‘Cocoon’ and I attended a stay and play session for mums experiencing postnatal depression and spoke to the mums there. We also had a psychologist read the play and provide links to support and help for anyone attending the show and had a representative from ‘Mind’ the mental Health charity at some of the shows on the tour. After my own miscarriage, I found talking really helpful and ended up speaking to many women about their own experiences of it.
How did you decide on the staging?
The staging was a collaborative decision and design between my director Lisa Cagnacci and the set designer Alex Marker, who came up with the idea for a giant dolls house that would be on stage and represent the character’s flat. Linked to the ideas of children, role play, expectations and domesticity. Alex then made the house himself and after a stint at Edinburgh, it has remained in my garden shed as a home for the mice before being cleaned up and driven around the UK on tour with me.
How was touring life?
Touring life was great! Mainly because the tour was designed with my role as a mother in mind. (it helped that both producers of the show were mums too) This meant that rather than me be constantly away, traveling from place to place, we had no more than four shows maximum a week – usually just two, which meant I could take my kids to school in the morning, drive to a venue, do an evening show, a morning show, and be back to pick them up the following day. This meant not have to arrange too much outside help, not missing them too much and getting a lovely break from them for one night a week! It was a perfect balance and I had a lovely stage manager along with me which was a great support.
You had parent and baby performances on your recent tour of Fox – why did you opt to include these?
This was something that was really important to us. What was the point of the show if our target audience were unable to attend? It is really hard for mothers of young babies to do anything for themselves. There are things available for the babies but we seem to have to cease to exist as ourselves for a bit until the children become more independent. It was vital for us to provide this opportunity for mothers to come and see the show with their babies as they are the ones who would really relate to it and who may need to hear it the most. We also wanted to have the post show chats, partly as a place for the mums to hang out and meet other mums, but also to open up the conversation about these issues and experiences which for me was such a vital and enriching part of the tour as so many mums stayed and shared their stories, showing just how necessary and important these conversations are as well as the spaces in which to have them. I can’t say that performing a one woman 60 minute monologue to a load of crying babies was an easy task but it was certainly one of the most rewarding!
How has the show been received?
Exactly as I had hoped. The response has been amazing and so positive. Not only from mothers but also men and people without children. I have had so many messages from women and men who saw the show, thanking me for validating their experience, making them feel seen, raising awareness, talking about the things that people don’t, providing a safe space to listen and talk, for making art about this unspoken subject and for going to a place that is usually avoided both in life and in art.
I in fact had some senior staff from a hospital come to see the show who said it was better than any training they could provide and now want to fund a performance of it for their staff and parents which is a wonderful outcome. I have always believed that theatre can inspire change and I would love to play a part in that.
Good question! I would love to say a comedy – (the play was emotionally draining to perform) but it seems most of my ideas deal with darker topics. I would like to write something about female rage and recently sent a WhatsApp message to all the women I know asking them ‘what as a female makes you feel the most rage?’ The answers have pretty much made the play already! I am also co-writing for TV and have completed a drama about 3 members of the London Fire Brigade. Otherwise, I am very busy with mum duties and all that comes with that! We would love to complete the life of ‘Fox’ with a two week run at a London theatre and are trying to raise funding to make that happen next year. Our aim is to get more men/dads in to see it! Watch this space…
Katie Guicciardi is an actress, writer and acting coach. She studied Drama & Theatre-Arts at Goldsmiths University, Acting at East 15 Acting School and Ecole Gaulier and teaching at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Katie is also a mum of two children and her passions are theatre, travel, food, and antique jewellery.