Selfish was created from research into the various philosophies, myths and metaphors that have been through history to describe what it feels like to know you exist. Sources range from the story of the Golem of Prague to the idea of the ghost in the machine; from the discovery of perspective to cosmetic surgery; from Renaissance cosmologies to emergence theory.

Why do some of these images and narratives have such resonance? And why do some fictions ring more true than the scientific truth? In Selfish a group of performers work through a series of installations and performances, testing out ideas, finding each others’ limits and tracing their own personal journies through the history and geography of the self.

Selfish was initially a commission for The Arches, Glasgow, following some initial development in Harlow, Essex. It was later re-made for Camden People’s Theatre, London.

As much an installation as a theatre show, it’s a meditation on how ideas of the self are pieced together in a society where many of the social definitions of identity are fragmenting… a huge emotional momentum, as the detached image of a face wanders a little then fades, screens are packed away, and the shimmering light that sustained this world of perceptions fades to common day. …a serious, true and compassionate feeling for the human condition in the image-driven age of Big Brother; and a deep musicality about the expression of that feeling that finally becomes irresistible.

– Joyce McMillan, The Scotsman, on the Glasgow version.

The set design for Selfish was on display at the Collaborators exhibition organised by the Society of British Theatre Designers at Nottingham Trent University, and then new theatre gallery at the V&A museum, London. The fully illustrated exhibition catalogue is available from the SBTD and theatre bookshops, including the RNT bookshop.


London: Devised by the company. Designed and directed by Paul Burgess and lit by Katharine Williams. Cast: Paul Devaney, Susan Worsfold, Graeme Mackay. Production assistant: Patrick Wade.

Glasgow: Devised by the company. Designed and directed by Paul Burgess. Cast: Susan Worsfold, Onur Orkut and Graeme Mackay. Design assistant: Geraldine Greene.

Created with the support of The Arches, Glasgow, then further developed at Camden People’s Theatre with Arts Council, England funding.