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I met Hayley and Louise of Haylo Theatre in October of 2017. During my third year at Chester University, I ran into them in the corridor of the Kingsway Campus.

They were pushing a rail with a bunch of clothes and a big suitcase. We got talking – they were a theatre group that created performances to initiate discussions around health and social care within communities. They were due to perform a show at Storyhouse and I offered to take some photos.

When I arrived at Storyhouse I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know much about the show or what Hayley and Louise, two strangers I had just met a few days before, would be like. It was agreed that I would take photos of them before the show started, so the sound of the camera wouldn’t distract the crowd (as the show was very immersive and emotional).

I entered the auditorium and was immediately greeted with big smiles and hugs from the pair. Their bubbly personalities were infectious and I was immediately at ease and excited for the show. They acted out a few of the scenes, whilst I walked around them taking pictures.

“Let’s do the scene with the dog!” Hayley said and immediately got down on her knees and started howling as she tapped a suitcase, while Louise told the story. “Let’s do the wedding!” Haley started wrapping Louise in a bedsheet shouting, “it’s not gonna fit!!!!”. Then they sat on two chairs, staring off into the distance, a hollow look on their faces as they began to slide off and try to catch one another.

I left the auditorium utterly confused. The brief explanation given beforehand was it was a show about death, but most of the scenes I saw were very funny. I returned after a quick coffee break to watch the actual show and was completely in awe. Sisters, Seagulls and Send offs, detailed the story of two sisters who’d recently lost their father. Through sorting out old belongings to reminiscing about times passed, the show introduced us to the raw reality of dealing with grief and the different ways people handle their emotions.

I ended up sobbing. Hayley and Louise had so intricately woven funny and lighthearted moments with the tough reality of death, taking the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions; laughing before bursting into tears, having your heart full when the sisters laughed about the story of the dog, only to have it break as they cried, remembering the reality of their dad passing away.

“It isn’t about us making a parody or making fun of bad things that happen, but we think that in life you need to find the joy and laughter in things because a lot of times if you don’t laugh, you cry,” Hayley explained to me as we sat in her office talking about their work.

I’ve since worked with them several times. Haylo theatre has evolved greatly, after starting out with a show titled Over the Garden Fence that reflected on dementia.

“Louise and I were working together for another theatre company and we decided we wanted to create our own piece of theatre. There wasn’t a clear purpose in the beginning, we just wanted to create something and we wrote Over the Garden Fence. We put it out for the general public and an audience member approached us suggesting the work could be used as a tool to create conversation. It just snowballed from there. We got in touch with charities, from care homes to dementia support groups. We were then asked if we have any work focusing on death and dying, so we started writing something.”

In their work, they use real-life experiences, from their own lives and also found stories. They research the topics and talk to people within communities who have first-hand experience with the issues discussed. Their latest project is called Gather Together funded by Brightlife – they’ve been working with people dealing with social isolation. Using theatre and other forms of art they’re helping people express themselves and share their perspectives.

“We thought this would be the perfect opportunity for us to use theatre to create self-worth again within those people and get them to recognise their importance within the community. It’s one of the most amazing things we’ve ever done. I absolutely love it; seeing these people progress and their confidence grow. There were individuals when we started off who were very reluctant and didn’t want to join in, thinking they had nothing to share. But now, they’ve created a wealth of art and poetry and stories. It isn’t just about the final product or what they’ve created physically, it’s about their emotional wellbeing.”

I was lucky enough to have photographed their celebration event at the end of the project, an evening showcasing all the work done across the year; the room was full of heartwarming stories and beaming with personality. The evening ended with some of the group reading the stories that they’d written and performing a song together. Hayley and Louise moved around them with a mic, giving centre stage to those they’d helped so much.

Now that the project has ended, Haylo is working on creating a show on social isolation, using the stories and experiences they’ve gathered – it’s expected to be ready in March next year.

Haylo Theatre is two incredible women who have devoted themselves to bringing theatre to those who may not have access to it, by performing in care homes, schools, cafes and beyond, in order to start a discussion around difficult topics that affect people in the most vulnerable of times, and help them process and reflect. Watching a Haylo Theatre performance will leave you emotional and full of thought.

When I asked Hayley for her advice for the budding performer, she said, “It’s really hard but if you’re passionate about it, just go for it. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice and speak to people. Don’t be disheartened when things don’t work out as there are so many opportunities out there, just keep going.”

You can find more about Haylo Theatre and their upcoming shows on their website, here.