Interview: Laura Horton On Her New Play Breathless

We recently sat down with Laura Horton, to speak about her new play Breathless which focuses on hoarding, her journey up to here and everything else in between.

Heading to Soho Theatre following its Fringe First winning run in Edinburgh, Breathless is a funny, honest and stylish exploration of the often-overlooked dilemma of hoarding from the perspective of Laura Horton’s (Plymouth Laureate of Words) own experiences.

In it, we witness Sophie’s journey as she opens herself up to new experiences in her late thirties; exploring emotions and parts of herself that had been previously repressed. But when a secret hidden even from herself threatens to unravel everything, she must make a difficult decision; forced to choose between who or what she will give up.

The play delves into the deep complexities of hoarding – examining both the joy and addiction that it brings as well as its suffocating shame. We witness Sophie’s struggles as she questions if collecting things is a way for her to hide from herself and her true identity.

As she attempts to reconcile her desire for security with her need for self-discovery, we are left questioning our own attachment to material items and whether we too are in danger of letting them control our lives.

This darkly humorous production shines a light on an issue that is often overlooked or misunderstood; providing insights into how hoarding can be both an affliction and a source of comfort.

With its clever narrative structure, careful attention to detail, and thought-provoking dialogue, Breathless offers an unforgettable exploration of what it means to let go – both literally and metaphorically – as well as showing us that sometimes looking inwards can be just as important as looking outwards.

We recently sat down with Laura Horton, to speak about her new play Breathless which focuses on hoarding, her journey up to here and everything else in between.

What inspired you to write “Breathless”?

It was inspired by my own experience with hoarding behaviours, I’d written a huge ensemble play about hoarding but knew I would never get that put on the stage as an unknown writer. Plus I was really keen to write an intimate, one-person piece.

What aspects of clothes hoarding do you explore in the play?

I explore the twin issues of shopping addiction and the inability to throw things away, which build over time and can become suffocating.

How does Sophie’s journey represent your own experience of hoarding?

Sophie is based on me but there are lots of fictional elements, including the characters around her. Much of the action did happen to me, including having my face on the front page of a national newspaper with the title My Life as a Hoarder.

What themes and messages do you hope the audience will take away from the play?

I wanted to show the sliding scale of hoarding disorder so people might recognise the issues before they become extreme. I also wanted to write a piece for a woman in her late thirties who is exploring her bisexuality for the first time.

What challenges did you face during the writing process?

It was actually quite a quick process to write the piece but it has felt exposing and raw at times in the staging, though the positive comments and support I’ve received have made it so worthwhile.

How does the structure and format of a theatrical production allow for a deeper exploration of this topic?

I love the liveness of theatre and the conversations that happen in the bar afterwards. The play has enabled so many discussions, I’ve learnt so much about other people’s experiences and in sharing mine, hope to be creating space for more.

Interview: Laura Horton On Her New Play Breathless

How do you balance humour and honesty when writing about such a sensitive subject?

It was important to me that this play be entertaining. I think humour is crucial in exploring the absurdity of the issues as well as the seriousness. I wrote with instinct really, I didn’t know how it would land initially.

Are there any misconceptions about hoarding that this play helps to correct?

There are so many, that people who hoard are dirty and lazy, and media depictions are so extreme, I hope Breathless goes some way to unpick the stigmas.

How did Sophie’s decision to give something up reflect your own personal growth?

Sophie’s journey is intertwined with my own, her hope is mine and other people’s, I wanted to write a play that offered light and possibility.

Why was it important for you to depict Sophie’s journey so honestly and openly in Breathless?

It just made sense to me, I wanted to write the play I’d love to watch.

Do you feel like theatre is an effective platform for exploring mental health issues such as hoarding?

Theatre to me is magical, it transports you. I’ve had so many powerful conversations post-show about mental health, it’s definitely been an effective means of talking about hoarding.  

Interview: Laura Horton On Her New Play Breathless

How has hoarding affected relationships with those around Sophie in her life, both positively and negatively?

She can’t let people in, there’s so much shame for her it’s detrimental to her loved ones and those around her. She creates a fantasy life through her things that is unsustainable, though there are elements of it that are magical and imaginative.

What advice would you give someone who is struggling with similar issues as Sophie or facing difficulty opening up to new experiences later on in life? 

Ask for help, seek professional help where possible, and look for support from hoarding organisations such as Hoarding UK. Know that it isn’t insurmountable, you aren’t alone and it is possible to alter and unpick these patterns. Life has a way of throwing curveballs at you and there is always hope when there is a will to change.

Which elements of Breathless are most important for representing real-life struggles with hoarding disorder?

I don’t think there are any elements I can pick out specifically, it is a fictional play based on my experience, but I hope it offers insight into hoarding disorder and any misconceptions people have.

What were some of the biggest lessons learned while creating Breathless?

Mainly to trust my instincts, to back myself and trust that good will come from that.

Breathless by Laura Horton
Plays at the Soho Theatre
Tue 7 – Sat 18 Feb 2023
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