Stroke survivors take to the stage in a new dance theatre piece

16 Apr 2018

Stroke Odysseys, pic by

Stroke Odysseys, pic by Ben Joseph Photography

In the culmination of a three-year arts and health research project, choreographer Ben Duke, composer Orlando Gough, health professionals and survivors of traumatic brain injury will be collaborating on an odyssey of self-rediscovery. Some of the most profound questions that preoccupy survivors of stroke and other traumatic brain injuries touch on hopes of regaining the lost faculties that are core to their identity, including speech, song, movement and dance: through dance theatre Stroke Odysseys will explore the sense of self and agency that comes into question when a part of you is lost. The piece will be performed by a mixture of professional musicians, singers and dancers, and stroke survivors.

Rosetta Life is an organisation that use the arts in health innovation, and has been working for three years on the Stroke Odysseys project to help people living with the debilitating long-term effects of a stroke or brain injury. The project is a partnership between health professionals and artists to help those with an altered capacity to move, speak and express themselves. Often the participants are suffering from severe depression or anxiety: Stroke Odysseys helps them to recover their identities and find purpose again. There are around 100,000 strokes in the UK each year.

Last year the project presented Hospital Passion Play at the Victoria and Albert Museum, staging a song cycle with over seventy performers including a choir of twenty stroke survivors and Shout at Cancer choir. This year, they will premiere Stroke Odysseys at The Place prior to a national tour, supported by panel discussions with dancers, musicians, neurologists and neuroscientists to explore the impact of storytelling through song and dance on the brains ability to heal itself.

Ben Duke said,

“As in all of my work I am interested in how to bring the stories of the people I am working with onto the stage. This may or may not involve a literal telling of their story, but it will involve a searching for what the stories are that define us, and how do we find a way to share those stories so that other people will really hear them. For people who have suffered a stroke the process of absorbing that identity of stroke survivor into their existing sense of self is obviously a complicated one and my interest is in how to present this journey as a moving and entertaining piece of dance theatre. The piece will follow very loosely the idea of an odyssey and will look at how any sense of a destination, of arriving at an identity, is an illusion and that we are all constantly moving. The show is about the very human struggle to understand who we are, and whether as we lose bits of ourselves the answer to that questions seems closer or further away.”

The Place supported early stage research and a pilot programme, Remembering Who I Am, at National Hospital for Neurology and Neurological Surgery (NHNN) in 2012. The Place and Rosetta Life embarked on a weekly series of workshops in the gym at the hospital, exploring movement, music, memory, touch and visual imagery with a small group of patients.

Since then, Rosetta Life has been partnering with artists and health professionals to co-create Stroke Odysseys, working with South London’s stroke community to create a music and movement performance arts intervention that improves the quality of life and sense of well-being of those affected by traumatic brain injury such as stroke. Hospital patients who have experienced a traumatic brain injury experience the severe loss of confidence and self-esteem that comes with an altered capacity to move, speak and express themselves. Participation in the project allows stroke patients to make remarkable progress in the long process or rehabilitating, speech, movement, confidence, sense of self and agency in the world. The suggestion is that exploring one’s creativity on the journey of stroke recovery can have a remarkable impact on the brain’s healing process. Stroke Odysseys is being developed to be widely replicated and used.

Lucinda Jarrett, who leads the project, said

“We are proud of the creative confidence and skills of our Stroke Ambassadors, who have been trained to become advocates for life after stroke through public performance. Drawn from their stories, this Stroke Odysseys show explores the brain’s capacity to keep learning after stroke damage and challenges conventional wisdom about the lack of plasticity in adult and ageing brains. We are delighted that their first performance will be supported by professional dancers and musicians on a commission directed by choreographer Ben Duke with the music of our longstanding associate composer, Orlando Gough.”

The need for Stroke Odysseys has been identified by a wide network of clinicians, health care practitioners, patients and family members who are guiding the direction of the project through a series of practice research workshops. Following the project, a clinical evaluation report will be released to assess its effectiveness and make recommendations for future implementation.
For a window on the project to date visit

Company Information
Choreographed by Ben Duke Music by Orlando Gough
Libretto by Chris Rawlence and Lucinda Jarrett


To be announced

The Place 18 & 19 May
Tour 5 Oct to 16 Nov
18 – 19 May The Place, London
17 Duke’s Rd, London, WC1H 9PY
8pm | £17 (£13 concs)
020 7121 1100 |

5 Oct The Point, Eastleigh
Leigh Road, Eastleigh, Hampshire, SO50 9DE | 023 8065 2333

13 Oct Theatre by the Lake
Lakeside, Lake Rd, Keswick CA12 5DJ | 017687 74411

19 Oct Derry Playhouse
5-7 Artillery St, Londonderry BT48 6RG | 028 7126 8027

24 Oct The North Wall, Oxford
South Parade, Oxford OX2 7JN | 01865 319450

3 Nov Kings College London
Strand, London WC2R 2LS
Performance of Hospital Passion Play on 4th Nov

8 – 9 Nov Lakeside Arts, Nottingham
University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD | 0115 846 7777

16 Nov Circomedia Bristol
St Paul’s Chruch, Portland Square, Bristol BS2 8SJ | 0117 924 7615

Supported by Arts Council England, The Place, Guys and St Thomas Charity, City Bridge Trust, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea