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Asylum Trilogy Part 2: A Malady of Migration


A theatrical examination of diaspora, displacement and mental disorders in the 19th century

At a time when the issues of migration and mental health are seldom out of the news, CHM worked with Talking Birds and the Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland to develop a new theatre production which explored why the mid-19th century saw a prevalence of mental disorders among Irish migrants.

This followed the successful collaboration with Talking Birds on 'Trade in Lunacy' in 2013, and again used original music, song, humour and sharp characterisations to tell a series of intertwining stories.

The new piece was called 'A Malady of Migration' and was based on research carried out by Professor Hilary Marland of Warwick and Dr Catherine Cox of University College Dublin, in a project called Madness, Migration and the Irish in Lancashire, c.1850-1921, funded by the Wellcome Trust. They were supported by postgraduate students and others, who conducted supplementary research and took supporting roles in the drama.

Professor Hilary Marland explained the reasons for undertaking the work: “This is a chance to showcase our research in a way that is interesting, informative and sensitive, weaving in stories based on patients’ case histories and experiences. The aim is to make the findings of the research available to wider publics and to stimulate thinking and debate about mental illness in the past and present.”

“The perfpublicity poster with female patient against moorlandormance, based on an insightful and compassionate interpretation of the historical material, reveals both change and continuity in how we view mental illness, its causes and in particular its relationship to displacement, migration, isolation and poverty.”

There was an expert panel discussion after the Thursday evening performances in each venue and a post performance discussion on Saturday lunchtime, providing opportunities for audience members to discuss the making of the piece with researchers and the theatre company, and to engage in debate on issues raised by the performances. Details of the panellists are on the Expert Panel page - link above and here.

A series of short briefing sheets were produced to complement the drama and provide background information. These can be accessed from the Background Reading page - link above and here.

The piece, with a running time of about 55 minutes, was performed lunchtimes and evenings in Coventry and Dublin:
Coventry: Thursday 26th, Friday 27th, Saturday 28th June 2014
Dublin: Thursday 3rd, Friday 4th, Saturday 5th July 2014
'A Malady of Migration' provoked strong and overwhelmingly favourable reactions from the audience. Please follow the link above or here to read individual comments and view images from the production.

More about The Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland, University College Dublin

Talking Birds is an extraordinary, award-winning theatre company, renowned for working in unusual spaces. More about Talking Birds theatre company


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Watch a video of the performance and the expert panels


still from the performance
the expert panel in Dublin

expert panel at A Malady of Migration

Coventry venue: Shopfront Theatre
Dublin venue: New Theatre