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An actor performs a play inspired by Hearing the Voice

Our research has inspired a new stage play about how we all live with the voices in our heads.

Dialogues from Babel is based upon the work of Hearing the Voice, our interdisciplinary research project on auditory verbal hallucinations.

It includes the words of mental health service users from the North-East of England, as well as those of literary writers.

Seven actors have worked alongside director Mary Robson (Creative Facilitator in Durham’s Institute for Medical Humanities), dramaturg Philip Howard (former artistic director of the Traverse theatre, Edinburgh), and Fife-based sound designer R J McConnell to create a unique theatrical experience.

The performance took place at Northern Stage, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Improving public understanding

Up to one in ten people hear voices that others don’t. It’s an experience that is commonly associated with distress, mental illness and shame linked to social stigma.

But many writers also report vivid experiences of “hearing” the voices of the characters they create and having characters who talk back to them, rebel, and “do their own thing”.

Dialogues from Babel explores the connections between these different experiences, weaving together conversations with novelists and personal stories from voice-hearers to illuminate the experience of hearing a voice that no one else can hear.

It is one of many initiatives that aim to increase public understanding of voice-hearing, challenge stigma, and let people know that if they are struggling with distressing voices support is available to help them cope.  

Inspired by research

The conversations that inform the play come from Hearing the Voice research with writers at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and 40 interviews with Early Intervention in Psychosis service users in the Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust and the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust.

The service users were participants in our Voices in Psychosis study, which ran for three years and explored how their experience of hearing voices changed over time.

Dialogues from Babel brings their experiences to the stage, in their own words, so that they can be heard publicly. The participants generously gave their permission for their experiences to be shared.

Find out more

  • Explore the Writers’ Inner Voices website to find out about how writers experience the presence, agency and voices of the characters they create and try out creative writing exercises based on the research.
  • Understanding Voices is our website for voice-hearers, families and health professionals. It contains comprehensive and accessible information about voice-hearing, including coping strategies and how to find support.