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Dr. Anna Harpin

Profile pictureReader Theatre and Performance

School of Creative Arts, Performance and Visual Cultures

Tel: +44 (0)24 765 23021

Email: A dot R dot Harpin at warwick dot ac dot uk

Room F03 Millburn House
University of Warwick Coventry CV4 7HS

Office Hours: Thursdays 10am-12pm


Anna Harpin joined the University of Warwick in January 2015 as Associate Professor of Theatre. She completed her PhD at the University of Cambridge in 2009 and then took up a lectureship at the University of Exeter in 2010. Her research explores post-war British, Irish, and North American theatre, film, and graphic fiction. She is particularly concerned with the cultural representation of madness, trauma, and pain. Her research has been supported by the AHRC and she has published in number of journals including Contemporary Theatre Review, Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory and Performance Research. Her recent publications include her monograph Madness, Art, and Society: Beyond Illness, ‘Broadmoor Performed: A Theatrical Hospital’ in The Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities, Performance and Participation: Practices, Audiences, Politics with Helen Nicholson (RHUL), and Performance, Madness, Psychiatry: Isolated Acts with Juliet Foster Cambridge). She has just completed a chapter for the Routledge Companion to Literature and Disability on learning disabilities and cinema and an article about gender and pathology for a special issue of CTR on Katie Mitchell. Her second monograph is in development and is a study of the critical and creative politics of tenderness. Anna is also one of the editors of the Routledge journal Studies in Theatre and Performance and, along with Rachel Clements, Philip Hager and Gareth White, convened the ‘Performance, Identity, Community’ working group at TaPRA (2014-2017). She was shortlisted for the inaugural AHRC/Wellcome Trust Health Humanities Medal and The David Bradby Award for outstanding theatre research.

Alongside her academic work Anna is the co-artistic director of her theatre company, Idiot Child, with whom she works as a writer and director. In addition to this Anna works as a freelance director. Idiot Child recently completed a national tour of their work What if the plane falls out of the sky? The company is developing a new piece that will tour in 2023.


  • BA (Hons) English Literature (Newcastle)
  • MA Modern Literature and Culture (York)
  • PhD English (Cantab)

Research interests

Anna’s academic work is particularly concerned with questions of politics, representation, and non-normative psychological experiences. More specifically she is interested in the cultural politics of madness and trauma. In this regard her research intersects with psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and philosophy. She is concerned to examine alternatives to biomedical understandings of mental life and, through her research, explores how literature, theatre, and film might offer particularly valuable means of re-articulating what one might call madness or ‘mental illness’. Her monograph with Routledge, Madness, Art, and Society: Beyond Illness considers how literary, cinematic, and theatrical works constitute a writing back to power against the dominant orthodoxies of psychiatric thinking and practices. Through close analyses of graphic fiction, theatre, and film Anna illuminates the manners in which artists have sought to represent madness, psychiatry, and care and considers the political, artistic, and clinical legacies of such works. In addition to this work Anna, along with Juliet Foster (Cambridge), has completed an AHRC funded exploration into the history of performance in British psychiatric hospitals and asylums. Emerging out of this project she recently completed a book chapter on the history of theatre in Broadmoor Hospital. Alongside this primary area of current research Anna has just coedited a book with Professor Helen Nicholson about the politics of participation and performance entitled, Performance and Participation: Practices, Audiences, Politics. This volume seeks to better understand how performance and participation might help sharpen our notion of politics, action, and inaction. This volume was nominated for the TaPRA editing prize in 2017. Anna recently organised a conference with Professor Dan Rebellato (RHUL) on the subject of cultures of toxicity. She is also working on her second monograph, The Politics of Tenderness in Visual Culture


Selected publications

  • 'Of Scapeghosts and Men: Shane Meadows' Dead Man's Shoes and the Politics of Learning Disability', in Alice Hall (ed), The Routledge Companion to Literature and Disability (2020)
  • 'Passing On Stories: Katie Mitchell and the Dramaturgy of Pathology', in Contemporary Theatre Review edited by Tom Cornford and Caridad Svich (2020)
  • Madness, Art, and Society: Beyond Illness (Abingdon: Routlegde, 2018)
  • ‘Dirty Realism’ in Trish Reid (ed) The Theatre of Anthony Neilson (London: Methuen, 2017).
  • Anna Harpin and Helen Nicholson (eds), Performance and Participation: Practices, Audiences, Politics (London: Palgrave, 2016)
  • Anna Harpin, ‘Broadmoor Performed: A Theatrical Hospital’ in Anne Whitehead and Angela Woods (eds), The Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities (Edinburgh University Press, 2016)
  • Anna Harpin and Juliet Foster (eds), Madness, Performance, Psychiatry: Isolated Acts (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2014)
  • 'Revisiting the Puzzle Factory: Cultural Representations of Psychiatric Asylums' in Interdisciplinary Science Review, special issue on 'New Directions in Science and Performance', vol. 34, no. 4, pp. 335-350.
  • 'Unremarkable Violence: Staging Child Sexual Abuse in Recent British Drama' in Contemporary Theatre Review, vol. 23, no. 2, pp. 166-181.
  • 'The Lives of Our Mad Mothers: Ageing and Contemporary Performance', Women and Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory, vol. 1, no. 22, pp. 67-87.
  • ‘Intolerable Acts’, Performance Research, vol. 1, no. 16, 2011, pp. 102-111.
  • 'Land of Hope and Glory: Jez Butterworth's Tragic Landscapes' in Studies in Theatre and Performance, vol. 31, no. 1, 2011, pp. 61-73.
  • 'Marginal Experiments: Peter Brook and Stepping Out Theatre Company' in RiDE: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, vol. 15, no. 1, 2010, pp. 39-58.



Anna is the co-artistic director of Idiot Child with Susie Riddell. Idiot Child is a theatre company based in Bristol who make playful and peculiar work about how hard it is to be alive sometimes. They create unusual stories based on autobiography and always place the audience at the centre of their work. The company formed in 2009 and we have made 6 shows in this time: Nostalgia, Choking Hazard, Isle of Shame, I could’ve been better, You’re not doing it right, and What if the plane falls out of the sky? Idiot Child tells stories about ordinary people and ordinary lives in extraordinary manners. We find the beauty and weirdness in the everyday and try to make work that asks how you are feeling. Idiot Child were nominated for a Total Theatre Award in the category of Emerging Artists in 2013 alongside critical success in the local and national press. In addition to her work with Idiot Child Anna works as a freelance director and has recently directed You Sort of Disappear (Trinity, Bristol) and Yours Truly, Arnold Binns with Mufti and Malcolm Hamilton.