Submitting InstitutionGoldsmiths' College
Unit of AssessmentMusic, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Education: Specialist Studies In Education
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media, Performing Arts and Creative Writing
Summary of the impact
Professor Anna Furse's Practice-as-Research on Assisted Reproduction
Technologies [A.R.T.s] incorporates artistic design and educational
materials to raise awareness of medical, ethical and emotional issues
surrounding subfertility, addressing public ignorance, prejudice and
taboo. When she published her bestseller Your Essential Infertility
Companion, A.R.T.s were rarely discussed from the patient
perspective, debate being dominated by media sensationalism and
misinformation. Her subsequent critically acclaimed production projects,
articulating subfertiles' plights and rights, contributed culturally to
shifting public understanding. The Peach Child became an
internationally popular children's play, while My Glass Body (a
commissioned drama for BBC Radio) was broadcast twice — additional outputs
extending the reach of the project to multigenerational lay as well as
As an A.R.T. user (1994/5), subject of a BBC series Making Babies
(1996) and author of an innovative book Your Essential Infertility
Companion (Thorsons HarperCollins, 1996), Anna Furse became a media
spokeswoman for the patient perspective on infertility. In 2001,
when she joined Goldsmiths, she began addressing the topic as a
theatre-maker, blending biomedical and social questions artistically to
enhance public understanding of science. Research included a variety of
works for nursery school, sixth-form and adult audiences. It included
performances in a science museum and two hospitals. Outputs ranged across
puppetry, multimedia performance, installation, radio drama, education
packs, workshops, talking in theatres, universities, schools, discourses
at conferences and public events. Academic publications include [1-2], as
well as peer academic writing about her projects (for example, Jozefina
Komporaly, Theatre and Motherhood, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).
The Peach Child (2001/2): This multimedia puppetry adaptation of a
Japanese folktale for young children addressed childlessness, adoption,
ex-utero birth and older parenting . The Little Angel Theatre
commissioned its development with funding from an Arts Council England
(ACE) Writer's Award. It premiered in 2001 with the National Children's
Theatre Festival and Japan Festival, to critical acclaim: `accessible to
very young children while being hugely enjoyable for their parents' (The
Evening Standard Hot Tickets, also reviewed in Time Out and
The Stage); interview article in The Yomiuri Shimbun,
Japan's largest broadsheet and the world's best-selling newspaper,
circulation over 10 million. It was restaged by popular demand in the
Yerma's Eggs (2001/3): Two productions intersecting emotional,
bio-ethical, and medical issues. Drawing on Lorca's play Yerma
about a childless peasant girl in pronatalist 1920s Spain, it explored
A.R.T.s via multimedia physical theatre, with cutting-edge biomedical
video projection, including 3D/4D ultrasound in utero, never
before seen in public . Outreach impact included talks and twelve
workshops in secondary schools, supporting science teachers in broaching
In Vitro Fertilisation (I.V.F.) in multicultural science classrooms
against faith resistance, with students attending performances
(approximately 300). Furse's co-authored Education Pack was distributed to
Science and Drama teachers in schools in London and Bristol .
GlassBody: Reflecting on Becoming Transparent (2006/7): This
immersive interactive performance installation addressed scientific and
artistic portrayals of the interiority of the human body, questioning
implications of imaging technologies used extensively in A.R.T.s. .
Commissioned by the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, the directors of the
Assisted Conception Unit and Hospital Arts noted that Furse pioneered
transforming arts in to arts with the hospital. It was funded by a
Wellcome Trust People Award, an ACE Social Inclusion Award and the
London Arts and Health Forum (LAHF). Critically acclaimed (by, for
example, The Guardian, The Times and Time Out), it
premiered at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital with 23 subsequent
performances including at The Nuffield Theatre in Lancaster, Leicester's
Xchange Festival, and Guys & St. Thomas's Hospital (2007). Again Furse
wrote the Education Pack .
My Glass Body (2007): This radio production, written and directed
by Furse, compressed Art of A.R.T. themes into a patient's point-of-view
drama for BBC Radio 3 The Wire, with a soundscore by Graeme
Miller, starring Barbara Flynn and Jack Klaff (`Powerful radio debut', Radio
References to the research
All outputs listed below are available from Goldsmiths Research Office.
Evidence of the international quality of the research: The four
productions at [3-6] are cited as practice-as-research whose international
quality is evidenced both by the venues at which they were performed and
by their critical reception, enhanced by the peer-reviewed outputs at
1. Anna Furse, `Performing in Glass: Reproduction, Technology,
Performance and the Bio-spectacular', in (eds.) Geraldine Harris and
Elaine Aston, Feminist Futures? Theatre, Performance, Theory
(Basingstoke, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), pp. 149-68.
3. Anna Furse, The
Peach Child (2001) Published in NT New Connections 2008: Plays
for Young People (London: Faber and Faber, 2008), pp. 377-416.
6. Anna Furse, My
Glass Body (2007) with sound composition by Graeme Miller (BBC Radio
3 `The Wire'), produced by Karen Rose, Sweet Talk Productions.
Details of the impact
An A.R.T. user herself, Furse followed Your Infertility Companion
(`A useful and sensitively written reference on all aspects of human
fertility': Jane Coad, Anatomy and Physiology for Midwives (2nd
edn, Elsevier, 2005), 139) with creative outputs intended to counter media
sensationalism with enhanced public understanding of social/scientific
issues. The impact of her research persists in the form of performances in
theatres, schools, cultural festivals, on BBC Radio, online screenings,
and in bookshops. It continues to raise awareness of subfertility and
collateral issues such as adoption, the implications of imaging
technologies within obstetrics, and the rights of minority groups to
A.R.T.s. This work has brought the arts into dialogue with medical
professionals via her research methodologies, performances and discourses.
Following the success of post-show discussions including LAHF's sponsored
special event for health workers, chaired by King's College Professor of
Arts and Medicine, Brian Hurwitz, Furse has contributed to several public
`sciart' conferences and debates, including in June 2011 participating in
the Science + Culture forum as part of Creative Scotland's Creative
Futures programme at the Glasgow Science Centre. Her address
to an audience of artists, scientists and the public was followed by round
table debates with attendees. This talk was subsequently published online
The Peach Child
Furse's play was selected by the National Theatre for its annual youth
theatre scheme New Connections 2008, alongside projects by
distinguished British playwrights including Abi Morgan, Mark Ravenhilll,
Nigel Williams and Timberlake Wertenbaker, reaching a very wide young
audience nationally and internationally.
The most popular play among the eight selected by the NT, sixteen
schools and inclusive theatre groups — with approximately 350 active
participants — chose to produce The Peach Child, including the
disabled theatre group Razed Roof . Their productions performed to sell
out audiences at eleven regional theatres including the Theatre Royal Bath
and the Arcola Theatre, Hackney. According to the Guardian
reviewer: `In the hands of five young actors from Skelmersdale College,
Anna Furse's play The Peach Child was a living Manga cartoon. As
interpreted by a cast of 37 key stage 3 students in Sutton, it was a
triumph of shadow puppetry and chorus movement' . The best were
selected by the NT for the New Connections Festival at the
Cottesloe Theatre .
The play has enjoyed national attention through NT sponsorship and the
anthology which the NT distributed to all secondary schools in the UK:
NT New Connections: Plays for Young People (Faber and Faber, 2008).
The NT bookshop alone has sold 782 copies since April 2009 . It
continues to be produced within the UK and internationally, for example by
the City of London School for Girls, Cairo American College (both 2009),
the Garden International School, Kuala Lumpur (2010) and Ruamrudee
International School, Bangkok (2012) .
Yerma's Eggs and GlassBody
The Yerma's Eggs Education Pack has continued to be available to
schools , while ArtsArchives published a production DVD (2011)
as part of a collection of Furse's production archive . GlassBody
was regarded as exemplary high quality `sciart' by Arts Council England's
Social Inclusion department, inviting Furse to present GlassBody
to interdepartmental arts officers (2008).The live, digital and recorded
work has reached an increasingly wide and international audience through
several routes. ArtsArchives' digital publication of the production DVD
(2009)  was livestream broadcast to an international audience to
celebrate International Women's Day (8 March 2011). It attracted online
viewers for a total of 267 hours, with screenings also at venues in
London, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia . The Education Pack has
continued to be available to schools , and the work has taken several
different forms as outlined in the next section.
The Bernie Grant Arts Centre, London, commissioned a digital installation
for their multicultural festival The Gathering: Bodies and Memories
(2008). Furse reconstructed GlassBody's video, while
ongoing online resources include The Reproductive Toy that tests
awareness of the male and female reproductive system as a puzzle of parts
to assemble online; Furse was a panellist in the festival's public forum
. A similar installation was exhibited at Goldsmiths' Making a
Difference event, February 2013.
My Glass Body was re-broadcast on BBC Radio 3's The Wire
in 2008 . The production's artistic adventurousness led to Director of
Drama, Kate Rowland, using it in her in-house BBC dramaturgy sessions. Your
Infertility Companion has been republished in 2011 as
print-on-demand by Thorsons HarperCollins. Durable remains of The Art
of A.R.T., including video and the interactive Reproductive Toy,
remain accessible to the public on the Athletes of the Heart website .
Sources to corroborate the impact
The materials below are all available on request from Goldsmiths'
on The Art of A.R.T. at the Science + Culture Ideas Exchange,
Glasgow Science Centre, June 2011.
- Among UK schools and theatre groups that performed The Peach Child
in 2008 were St. Mary's Calne School, Wiltshire; Harlow
Fields School, Chelmsford New Model School and Razed
Roof, a disability/inclusive theatre group in Essex (a statement
from Razed Roof's Artistic Director is available from the Research
One Performing Arts School, Glenthorne
High School Sutton; Kennet
School Newbury [for reviews, see 9-10].
- Performances of The Peach Child reviewed by Lyndsey Turner in
Guardian, 8 April 2008; follow
up article in 2011 by Lyn Gardner, including an image of students
from Skelmersdale and Ormskirk College performing their adaptation of The
- At the New
Connections Festival, Cottesloe Theatre, National Theatre, July
2008; previewed as sold-out by Time
Out; Kennet School Newbury performance reviewed by Mark Trezona in
6 July 2008.
- National Theatre Bookshops Manager contact details provided.
- Relevant school website articles: City
of London School for Girls, Cairo
American College, Garden
International School, Kuala Lumpur and Ruamrudee
International School, Bangkok, with a detailed interview.
Eggs Education Pack.
080311 event, Performance Klub Fiskulturnik 2011.
Bodies and Memory Festival at the Bernie Grant Centre.
Body re-broadcast 26