Kane Power is an actor, writer, musician and theatre maker who was raised in Bristol and trained in Manchester. In his show Mental – winner of the first ever Mental Health Fringe Award at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe – he and his mum Kim bring to life their story of bipolar disorder: to have it, to witness it and to care for it.
In the third of a series of conversations with theatre performers at this year’s festival, Mabli Godden talks to Kane about translating life into music and storytelling.
How did you talk to your mum about what kind of show this would be and what she was comfortable putting on stage?
First the plan was just to tell my story of life for me growing up with a mum who suffers from psychosis. That was how we broached it – wanting to talk about my experience as a carer. As we went forward, my mum started to get well and that’s when we thought she might want to get involved in the piece. We spoke to her about that and she was quite happy to give a lot of information. She then [had an] episode that followed, which gave us a lot of material to talk about. She came back around mid-January and she watched a few of the rehearsals to give us the okay. But I don’t think it was the play that either of us thought it was going to be, the play became about us as opposed to me. She gave it the go ahead and then just kind of ran with it. She’s been really open about sharing her story and she’s been open about accepting that it’s a story that needs to be told.
Did you go in with an idea of how you wanted to set up a narrative and a structure for the show or did you develop that as you went along with the material that you gathered?
I had a strong idea in terms of the layout of the stage as a place where you can tell stories. And then a lot of music grew throughout the rehearsal process. Music was a way of communicating with my mum things that I might not say to her on a day to day basis, and also to give the audience an understanding of what bipolar might sound like. For me it was about telling stories, about letting people hear music and about communicating my story with my mum’s voice being included quite heavily.
Do you think the music responded to the speech or the other way around?
We’d just been given permission to access my mum’s medical notes and a lot of things happened from there. I’d created a lot of music before we started and then we created a lot more during the process but it all came from discussions about what had happened over the last 21 years, in response to those medical notes and my mum’s experience: everything was kind of a response to that, and we’d feed in some of my stories about what had happened. It became about: what do people need to know about this illness and how do we raise awareness. It quite quickly became not just, “me telling a story about my life” but “this is something that we don’t know enough about” and we were learning things about this illness that we didn’t know before we started. It was about communicating that through song, through text and physicality, to tell our story.
Was it difficult to strike a tone using such varied sources?
Whenever I tell stories about my mum it’s never full of sorrow or anguish, it’s quite light. My mum’s done some really great things and our bond is really lovely, so whenever I talk about my mum it’s always with warmth and fun and humour – it’s that kind of relationship that we have. The medical notes are quite distant and they’re talking about somebody who they’re just treating as a patient, they’re just ‘patient X’. For me the tone of that is quite interesting, hearing medical notes being read out from the doctor and then hearing a story [from me] about my mum, they’re interesting because they contrast each other quite a lot. But the medical notes for me were really hard, I found it really hard to read so I personally didn’t read a lot at all, but we found it was a nice way of being true to the medical side of it as well as my experience and my mum’s experience so we could get more of the truth of what the illness actually is.
How was the experience of making the show for you? It must have been quite difficult to bring up a lot of these things?
I was privileged to be with an amazing, supportive, articulate group of theatre makers that supported me and my mum throughout the process. There were moments when I really struggled and I would read something, or tell a story, and it would really affect me in a way that I had never thought it would. Obviously opening up about your past and trying to articulate that into a story is hard. So, I struggled emotionally at times but overall, the support network that both my mum and I had making the show meant that I never felt like the show was running away from me. Emotionally it wasn’t always easy but I was always excited about it actually happening. I was worried more about my mum’s reaction to watching it, my mum always had the final say on anything. For me her feeling like she was being represented fairly was really important, that was the biggest struggle.
Mental is showing at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow from 9-12 May, in association with Mayfesto. The Friday evening performance features a discussion between Kane Power and Andrew Eaton-Lewis of the Mental Health Foundation. Book tickets online or call the Tron Theatre box office on 0141 552 4267.