Award-winning director and playwright Jenna Watt is known for hard-hitting pieces of theatre that confront uncomfortable topics head on. Her previous works include Faslane, a compelling one-woman show taking its name from the home of the Trident nuclear missile programme and exploring the relationship between quotidian and enormously important political decisions. She has also covered the impact of life-changing decisions in her piece How You Gonna Live Your Dash, and tackled the concept of the bystander effect in Flâneurs.

Her latest work is a piece created specifically for Declaration that looks at the difficulties people have when it comes to the very real dilemma of whether or not to ask for help.

‘I sent in a proposal in response to the question: “What obstacles do different groups within society face when it comes to the right to health?” Immediately I thought about helplines and the anxieties that people experience when trying to access these services.’

Helpline explores what it is that makes people feel the need to access these kinds of services and digs a little bit deeper into why it might be that people feel averse to the idea.

‘The piece is a one on one sound installation that sets out to demystify the process of calling a helpline, to alleviate the anxieties around this process, and address concerns about feeling like a “time waster”,’ says Jenna. ‘It’s a personal, quiet and intimate experience, where the participant is invited to pick up the phone and dial a number. The rest needs to be experienced.’

The creative process, says Jenna, was pretty challenging.

‘I take a duty of care very seriously in my practice, so it was really important to me to ensure that anyone involved in my process had control over what their input would be. I’ve definitely learnt a lot more about confidentiality, and the work of volunteers and operators in helpline services. It’s a vital role that these individuals carry out and I feel they are overlooked and often forgotten.’

Concerns and doubts when it comes to asking for help is something Jenna thinks everyone has experienced from time to time.

‘I certainly hate the feeling of being a time waster, but thankfully I’ve learned through making Helpline that this misconception about time wasting is something these services are seeking to address.’

When asked what it is she hopes the audience will take away from Helpline, Jenna’s response is simple and contemplative:

‘Time to listen and time to reflect.’

by Kirstyn Smith


Jenna Watt's Helpline runs throughout the day on Friday 3 March at The Deacon's Suite at Surgeons' Hall in Edinburgh. The installation is free to access and no tickets are required. Jenna will also be participating in an Artist's Talk at 4.15pm at The Charter Suite at Surgeons' Hall, and tickets for that are available here. Find out more about Jenna Watt's work here.