First stage production of Breathing Country, Autumn 2009. Photographs by Robert Workman.
After six months hiding from the world, Lizzie (17), is ready for Life again. Six months ago, following the mysterious death of her mother, she pulled all information off her Facebook profile, and ceased all communication. She could not bear the world asking about her. But this morning is different. She switches on her machine and searches for 'Life'. Looking at photographs on the profile of Simon, (18) best friend and nearly-sweetheart, she realises that she wants to Live again.
Technophile Simon shares everything on the internet.
Lizzie’s sudden withdrawal from cyberspace left him bereft, and he has been gazing at Lizzie’s profile, waiting for a change. But today something is different – she has sent him a message: Lizzie is ready.
Meanwhile, Lizzie’s father, Richard, unable to cope with the bitterness and anger surrounding his wife’s death, has become trapped by grief. Boiling in silence, he is unable to relate to his daughter, and has thrown himself into his work. Richard is Communications Director at the Department of Health, and is trying to launch the NHS Electronic Patient Record – the biggest computer engineering project in the world. In the past, he was famous for knowing how the public want to ‘feel’ about such great endeavours, but since his wife’s death he has lost his gift - he doesn’t know how to tell the ‘story’ to the public. And he has a new problem – a journalist has obtained leaked information suggesting the database is not ready to handle sensitive patient information…
Richard is shocked by Lizzie’s sudden positivity, when she comes to find him at his office, and he wonders what has happened inside her. Pushing Lizzie away, he meets Janet, a gifted but fluster-brained clinical psychiatrist who has been campaigning for the introduction of the database. It becomes plain that Richard hasn’t been taking the privacy issues about the database seriously – he doesn’t know what privacy ‘feels like’. But when Janet tells him about a research study she is conducting, he goes pale…
Later that evening, Lizzie meets Simon, and he is joyous when she promises to attend a friend’s house-party for her ‘re launch’. But there is an elephant in the room – and Simon is hurt by her secrecy about the past six months. In a strange moment of tenderness, Lizzie takes a photograph of them together for him to share on his page. But then Richard arrives back home early. Furious that Lizzie appears to be cultivating a ‘secret life’ of her own when she should be churning with bitter grief, an outburst sends a distraught Lizzie scattering away. On the verge of throwing Simon out, Richard hesitates when Simon gives him a brilliant lead for the database story.
Later, Lizzie returns to her profile page, and witnesses a frenzy of comments over the freshly uploaded picture of her with Simon. Unable to cope with this sudden exposure, she suffers from a panic attack.
A week later, Richard successfully launches the database, and Simon and Lizzie are preparing to go to the party. Lizzie faces a struggle between her desire to go, and her belief that she will have an attack when she gets there. Simon tries to comfort her, but wishes she would tell him how he could help.
The party is a great success, and Lizzie returns home drunk on life. But when she wakes up, Richard is waiting for her. He had been fretting that she had abandoned him. Moreover, a letter from the NHS has arrived for her, and Richard is paranoid that it is about him. But when Lizzie reads the letter, she is shocked. It asks her if she consents to being contacted about taking part in a research study led by Dr Janet Grieg, concerning the mental health of young people. She has been identified because her medical record showed she had reported suffering attacks. As a result of what she regards as an abuse of her privacy, she has a severe attack.
The next day, she goes to accost Janet at the hospital, in defence of her privacy. Janet, at heart a good clinician, is horrified that Lizzie has been hurt by the use of her data in this way, but can also see that Lizzie desperately needs professional help. Talking to Lizzie, she gives Lizzie a glimpse of a future without these attacks – if she were to undergo some CBT. Lizzie, seeing a way out, begins to open up a little about the circumstances of her mother’s death. They arrange another appointment.
Since the party, Simon has been unable to contact Lizzie, while Richard has concluded that he must do something to avert a disaster with his daughter. Fretful that she may be at risk to herself, Richard suggests to Lizzie that they take a short break to talk about things. But Lizzie responds that she ‘can’t do Mondays’, but won’t say why. When Richard wonders aloud whether Lizzie might be ‘like her mother’, Lizzie bursts out into the night. Richard contacts Simon over Facebook and asks him if he can find out where Lizzie is going. Simon can’t resist such a data search, and the next day follows Lizzie to the hospital, from where he reports to Richard. In despair, Richard lashes out at Simon, and orders him off– he doesn’t want his daughter anywhere near a dirty snoop.
Inside the hospital, Lizzie is meeting Janet. Having established trust, and privacy – breathing country - Lizzie finally opens up about her mother’s suicide, and begins a healing process. But this involves data entry about Lizzie onto a computer. Janet may well be a gifted clinician, but she does not understand the technology, and is so overworked that she leaves her computer terminal vulnerable to furious, confused snoopers who may be loitering around the hospital, looking for answers.
Richard, meanwhile, frantically tries to locate Lizzie, convinced she is in danger of committing suicide. Finally getting in touch, he asks her to come and visit him at work. As Lizzie travels to Richard, Simon contrives to bump into Lizzie. Now aware and sensitive to her condition, he is still hurt – and when Lizzie promises she will tell him everything this evening – after she has gone to see her father – she does not understand the dread filling Simon’s heart – if only he’d waited a day, he wouldn’t have had to spy on her – and now her father will tell her he followed her!
And so it proves. All this time, Richard has been unable to empathise with his daughter – and now – in a panic – he demands that Lizzie ‘come clean’ about her trip to the hospital. Discovering she has been spied on, she is crushed. In the face of Richard’s emotional dysfunction, she threatens to ‘expose’ him – to tell everyone what happened to his wife. Although nobody has anything to hide, now he knows what the need for privacy feels like.
Later that evening, Richard tells a desperate Simon that he can never see Lizzie again. There is much for him to be bitter about – all he was trying to do was help. Later that day, Janet finds that the memory stick is missing from her computer…