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Edinburgh Fringe 2023


Poppy Radcliffe

Genre: Contemporary, New Writing, Poetry-Based Theatre, Spoken Word

Venue: Laughing Horse @ The Brass Monkey


Low Down

Having striven for a state of happiness and contentment her whole life, Poppy Radcliffe reached it after separation from her husband. For three glorious months the demon on her shoulder was gone. A little over excited by this newfound joy she slipped up and, like many a person following a separation found herself screaming her heart out in a police cell after trying to quash an out of control sex drive with rum. But did she really deserve to be sectioned? That was just the start of an extraordinary story told through poetry and story.


To find some of the hidden gems of the Fringe amidst all the noise and huge posters of already well-known comedians looming from every lamppost, it’s well worth strolling slowly and seeing who wants to give you a flyer. Not merely thrust it into your hand, but give it to you intentionally. And then having a chat about the show – what’s it about. Meeting Poppy Radcliffe on the first morning of the fringe I heard about a show that it aims to be an expose of the ineffectiveness of inpatient mental health services, from the inside. Combining poetry and prose into a narrative of despair, psychosis and hope.   Sectioned at her peak, Poppy, a satellite engineer, spiralled as she tried to come to terms with what happened and wrote to express the thoughts that tore at her insides resulting in the publication of her first poetry collection SECTIONED in 2022.

So on the second day I went.

SECTIONED started as a collection of poetry by Poppy Radcliffe documenting and making sense of her challenging mental health. It spans her experiences of the care system and her relationships framed by her seven experiences of being sectioned and the impact that has had on her life. From this she has developed a narrative tale performing her poems interspersed with a linking narrative that invites us to make the journey with her.

This work brings home the sense of frustration and powerlessness she felt, and although it can only ever be a glimpse, the power of her poetry reaches us in ways that simply describing what happened probably never can. It’s a view from inside the services, one thing that stayed with me was that once in the system, in treatment, you aren’t allowed to get well, the expectation is that you will always be ill. The Fringe may be a place where vivid, often difficult personal stories are shared, and this work is daring in being so frank and open.

The show is on the Free Fringe with all the ups and downs that that brings. The venue, The Brass Monkey, on Drummond St is very central but the rest of the programme is comedy and it’s one of the oddest venues in terms of seating I have ever been in! There are essentially two giant sofas, each the size of a double bed with ample cushions so a very comfy spot if a little limited in terms of potential audience numbers, plus a couple of small tables with stools and benches at the back. One physical effect of this was to highlight the gap between my mostly comfortable life experience and that of Poppy, and others, that I am hearing about.

The performing space is simply a stand and deliver one; however, Radcliffe makes use of more the T shaped space by sitting, standing, walking into the audience to share some of the narrative elements. I saw the show on its second day and felt she was still feeling a little unsure of the space. I’m sure as the run progresses, she will become more confident in claiming the space and making it work for her.

Dressed in a brightly coloured and sparkly outfit, she moves smoothly between narrative and poetry without any announcement or title, each is an element to telling her story – no awkward ‘just got to put this in to introduce the next poem’. There are elements of humour in her story and she has good comic timing as she delivers a throw away comment. Even the occasional noise from the adjacent bar doesn’t break the spell.

A thought provoking and moving insight into the experience of being sectioned. So step away from all those huge posters and Fringe bustle for an hour and enjoy the power of words as they take you into the world of one young and very talented poet.