Dr Helen Iball

Dr Helen Iball


I joined the Theatre Studies team in the School of English at Leeds in 2009, moving here from a lecturing post with the Department of Drama, University of Hull. My first academic post was as Set and Costume Design Tutor at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. I also studied there for a PhD in which my critical and contextual study was accompanied by an original playscript.

This background in creative theatremaking as a designer, writer, and director underpins my current research exploring ‘quiet noise’ in contemporary literature and performance. The work builds from my earlier project, Theatre Personal: audiences with intimacy (launched 2009) – and, particularly, upon insights from my collaborative research with the late, great Adrian Howells (1962–2014) towards an ethics of intimate audience. These activities channel my established publishing profile on contemporary British playwrights and theatre-makers including Bobby Baker, Howard Barker, Tim Crouch, and Sarah Kane.

The ‘quiet noise’ project extends my longstanding interests in contemporary theatre, performance and live art to include novels, autofiction, and lyric essays. I am bringing diffractive research methods to texts by Sara Baume, Jo Clifford, Robert Holman, Duncan Macmillan, and Elizabeth Strout. These works share an impulse to represent the psychological damage done by contemporary culture, whilst at the same time identifying hope in (face-to-face, imagined, bibliophilic, virtual) communities. The texts are connected by their attentiveness to mental ill/health, misfits and outsiders, queerness, and radical kindness. As signalled by the neologism ‘quiet noise’, oxymoron (etymology: ‘pointed foolishness’), counterpoint, and superposition are key characteristics in the novels, essays, plays, and performance/activism in my research-led teaching. These characteristics also dynamise my facilitation of Essayers workshops with comics-based paper worksheets called Essayerszines.

Inspired by diffractive research methods (Donna Haraway, Karen Barad) and doodling as a transitional space (Donald Winnicott, Lynda Barry), I created Essayers pedagogy. It was piloted through close-to-practice research (2019–20) on the Practical Essay core module, which is the undergraduate Theatre Studies final year project. Research activities are underway to transpose these materials and methods for multidisciplinary and co-curricular contexts – including as a pilot project on supporting student mental health. The motivation is for inclusive, creative learning environments that simultaneously “up the ante” and “lower the stakes” by handmade means (cartooning, jottings, playing school); the 2019–20 pilot-project focus groups evidenced that Essayers’ playful discombobulation of the learning environment encourages students to welcome complexity and open exploration.

Research interests

  • creative pedagogies for creative arts practice
  • creative essaying and intermediality
  • posthuman diffractive pedagogies
  • critical mental health studies
  • contemporary anxiety: texts, concepts, contexts
  • agential realism
  • the plays of Duncan Macmillan
  • the plays of Sarah Kane
  • the novels of Elizabeth Strout
  • novels and essays by Sara Baume
  • quiet and quiet noise
  • quiet noise and misophonia
  • queer time and place
  • creative resistance to the attention economy
  • intimate theatre and the ethics of participatory practice
<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD (Wales)
  • MPhil (Wales)
  • Foundation Certificate in Gestalt Counselling and Psychotherapy (YPTC, York)
  • Introductory training in Sesame Dramatherapy (Sesame Institute, London)
  • BA (Hons) Drama

Professional memberships

  • WT Studio Lab (convenor)
  • LIMHRN (Leeds Interdisciplinary Mental Health Research Network)
  • PRiA (Pedagogic Research in the Arts)
  • Creativities in Education SIG (Special Interest Group), BERA (British Educational Research Association)

Student education

I teach Theatre Studies core modules for BA (Hons) English Literature and Theatre Studies. A particular focus of my role is the Practical Essay, which forms the Final Year Project on this degree programme.

My undergraduate option modules in the School of English are based upon my research interests in critical mental health, anxiety and contemporary culture, and the consolations and consequences of storytelling’s imaginative “as if…”.

Research groups and institutes

  • PRIA
<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>