The project’s research and creative development began in January 2014. Katharine Craik (a specialist in Renaissance literature and culture) worked with Steve Chapman (a Consultant Respiratory Physician with experience working with sleep patients) to explore intersections between seventeenth- and twenty-first century understanding of sleep’s functions.
Drawing from resources held in the archives of the Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, originally established as a physic garden in 1670, we explored which plants and herbs were cultivated for the treatment of both insomnia (or “watching”) and excessive sleepiness. Considering the works of James Sutherland including Hortus Medicus Edinburgensis: A Catalogue of the Plants in the Physical Garden at Edinburgh (1683) alongside early investigations in sleep science by Renaissance physicians such as Sir John Floyer, Gideon Harvey and Thomas Culpepper, we developed a nuanced understanding of the historical questions which lie behind modern research into sleep and sleep disorders. These findings were then correlated into a reflective summary of the clinical and functional implications of sleep at an important moment in medical history, and in the present day.
The libretto of Watching incorporates verbatim accounts of seventeenth-century patients and physicians, together with more lyrical reflections on sleepiness and wakefulness. The story was created with distinct choruses for children, and several additional parts for professional actors and singers. Once the libretto was complete , Dee Isaacs began writing the musical score which took its inspiration, in part, from the rhythms of the ninety-minute sleep cycle.
Workshops and rehearsals in schools commenced in January 2015, with performances taking place between 18 and 21 March 2015. These were accompanied by a drop-in event at the Botanical Gardens for the general public as well as participants and their families. Follow-up work in schools is scheduled to finish in December 2015.