Find a safe space (a toilet) and breathe

I absolutely love a good toilet. No one can deny the sweet relief of a long awaited wee or the feeling of a hot shower after a tiring day. The toilet/bathroom/loo/WC etc. is extremely underrated and I’m about to tell you why. Stay with me on this.

For years I focused all my efforts on being a successful actor, then a year and a half ago, I created a show that pushed me in a different direction. In 2016, I made a performance called I Did It Because I Wanted To – a response to over 70 anonymous survey submissions surrounding selfishness (self-gratification, self-worship, self-motivation and all the bits in between). The work was a site of personal memoirs, borrowed stories, and donated experiences whereby I reworded, reimagined and responded to the submissions. Amongst the surveys were confessions, guilt, rage and extraordinary, ruthless decisions. They were real people who had given genuine answers and it was utterly brilliant! It’s important to understand that although I didn’t want to encourage selfish acts, I respected their honesty and wanted to create a fitting space for my final performance; a space to both protect and voice our uncensored bits. For this reason, I Did It Because I Wanted To was set in a makeshift bathroom – the mother of all safe spaces.

And so my odd relationship with toilets began.​

​I’m interested in the bathroom as a place to totally be yourself. I feel people often set lots of expectations, rules and notions for the way we manage ourselves. There aren’t many moments when we can unwind or let our thoughts safely wander, just exist as inhabited beings. Even the bedroom has become a place to share with another thing. Whether that thing be a partner, a friend, a stranger, an office desk or a window that opens out onto a main high street. Somehow privacy has disappeared. The bathroom, however, your bathroom, is different. It’s a place with blurred windows and blinds down. It’s an intimate space. It’s a space we may wee, poo, wipe, bleed and sweat the way we want. It’s a bodily function museum that only we see. It’s a place to wash and clean our bodies, and also to wash away the regrets from the night before and prepare for what’s next. It’s time out. A moment of relief from the busy outside world. It’s a space to escape. It’s a place to see ourselves in the mirror. To judge, love and ponder the wobbly bits, the strong bits and the ‘when the fuck did that get there?!’ bits. It’s a karaoke shower. It’s a place to let out a sigh. The bathroom tiles will never ask you to start a conversation, to be clever or to have an impressive, well-paid job. It’s a space of vulnerability. It’s a completely terrifying and utterly satisfying moment alone.

I find toilets creeping into all my works. I just can’t help it. There’s definitely worse things to be inspired by. Earlier this year I started an online platform called Toilet Seat Poetry, it’s a brave yet safe space for people to share their own poetry and stories from the comfort of their toilet seat. It was created with all of the above in mind.

A couple of months ago things were pretty shit, but right now, I’m feeling in a particularly good place. I’m surrounded by wonderful friends and family, I’ve got a residency keeping me motivated, a show in the making and I’m just about paying my rent. But there’s still many a moment when I need time out. When I have stepped into the shower with a, er, friend, but know that washing alone with my own thoughts is probably a much more intimate (and spacious for that matter) affair.

What am I trying to say here?! For me, the bathroom offers us all a rare moment alone in our wonderfully unpolished human bodies, and as a person (even MORE so as an artist) we should take advantage of this. Take time to breathe and reflect, on how bloody great you feel/look, on how well you’re doing/managing, or even to acknowledge how shit things are, take those moments and dwell on your current sadness. Just take time to exist exactly how you are. Then, and here’s the crucial bit, move forward. Don’t spend too long contemplating. Spend a wees-worth of seconds, or the time it takes you to soak in the bath. There’s an untapped space inside the toilet but a whole world outside it and the people, places and experiences are usually worth opening the door for.


Martha Pailing


Martha is a northern born performer and spoken word artist with a background in theatre and live art. Since graduating in Drama from Queen Mary University, she has been watching, writing, making, procrastinating and playing (not necessarily in that order). She is currently a Resident Artist at the Roundhouse and developing her first full solo show Faster People.

Toilet Seat Poetry can be found here: Link

If you feel like it, keep up to date with her stuff here: Link


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