Guest Blog – Laura Horton, in association with Theater Royal Plymouth, presents a cheeky new play’Breathless’ at the fringe

Laura discusses the effects of hoarding clothes on her life.

Plymouth Laureate of Words Laura Horton blogs for Broadway World about exposing her real-life addiction on stage, the stigma that surrounds it, and translating her issues into a funny, honest, yet dark performance piece.

In 2021 I was approached by Theater Royal Plymouth to research, develop and present a triptych of twenty minute plays. I had few ideas about the third track other than I knew I wanted it to be a monologue. As time ran out, I ended up writing a very personal article about a woman returning to Devon who was struggling to navigate dating as a hoarder. The reaction was really powerful; I’ve had a lot of people approach me to say they think they might bank or know people who have. What was clear to me was that I had to develop the piece. I wrote another piece about hoarding, an absurd ensemble piece, but when I wrote it, I didn’t understand my brain like I do now. I hadn’t made the breakthroughs. First of all, it’s a piece that I would like to develop eventually, but this piece, Breathlessis definitely the right piece to start my creative exploration on hoarding.

I can’t identify when it all started but clothes for me have always been a way of escape, a chance to imagine other versions of my life, i always felt like the more clothes i bought, the more options i bought for myself. It wasn’t until I had to move a few years ago that I realized the extent of my problem. I had thousands of things all sucked up. I didn’t consider myself a hoarder because the media portrayals were so extreme, mostly of older people living in serious scenarios. I knew I was on the razor’s edge, that I could switch either way. Why are we only seeing the end of mental health issues and addictions? I decided to start talking about it online, I took the time to write, not shop. I slowly but surely began to eliminate things from my life. People contacted me to say that what I said resonated. It would seem that many people, if not hoarders, had more stuff than they needed. This was the turning point for me and this is what I explore a lot in my work.

I think the only way to de-stigmatize mental health and addiction is to talk about the different stages and experiences of it. The more I talk and write about my hoarding, the more I can highlight the sliding scale of the problem; everything starts somewhere. Translating my experience on stage has been a fascinating process. I didn’t want to visualize hoarding, so I worked with Theater Royal Plymouth and director Stephanie Kempson to present a simple set. We were keen to use sound to elevate the subject and Verity Standen’s acapella compositions seemed to really enter into the human experience, really ringing with the moments of anxiety and joy in the piece.

As a PR, the audience has always been at the forefront of my mind, which makes Breathless I really wanted to develop projects alongside the piece to create space for new conversations about hoarding and sustainability. I am currently developing a hoarding podcast called hidden by things which I will launch at the start of the Fringe, addressing people who identify with or understand the topic, making people, not their things, the center of the conversation.

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Photo credit: Dom Moore

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