The Box by Scottish choreographer Julia James-Griffiths had its world premiere at the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival 2018. A contemporary dance theatre piece that explores the impact depression can have on an individual and how society responds to it, it aims to be innovative, creative, yet accessible.

After the performance, which took place at Assembly Roxy, the audience were invited by its creator and her mentor, Christine Devaney, to share their thoughts on the piece. Talking Heads reporter Stella Hervey Birrell has captured their reflections and shared them in this piece:

‘I was in tears…moved, and startled…you nailed it.’

‘I was blown away by the dancers.’

‘It’s rare to see mental health portrayed in such a true and honest way.’

‘I recognised the experience of being on the receiving end of well-meaning advice, the sheer volume of what should work.’

‘It was a great example of representation…people like to see, in art, that which reflects our own lives and experiences. Mental health is one of the last taboos, one of the great unexplained, especially for those who haven’t experienced it. Even in the less direct scenes, the tension and the struggle was apparent.’

‘It raised the important issue of the use of medication and over-medication.’

‘There’s something validating about seeing the pain of mental illness on stage. If it’s relatable, it’s validating. Thank you.’

‘It didn’t depict the awfulness and the hopelessness as much as it could have.’

‘It showed what it’s like to be alone: alone in a group, alone in a relationship. Fighting to stay balanced. There were scenes when all of the dancers were onstage together, but still looked isolated.’

‘I loved the humour.’

‘I don’t know anything about dance, and at the beginning I was thinking: “Oh I don’t understand this at all,” and then later, I came to completely understand what you were aiming to communicate.’

‘The best thing about the piece was the fact that it didn’t tell a rational, linear story: depression is not rational or linear either.’

‘I started to feel, watching a particular scene, that it was going on too long … then I realised that depression is like that.’

‘I was concerned that it reinforced the stigma of medication.’

‘It highlighted the value of relationships.’

‘It showed how key it is to have human contact.’

‘At the end, you referenced the statistic of 1 in 4 people who will suffer from poor mental health. But within that scene, there was a suggestion of the concept of 4 out of 4. That this is just what it’s like to be alive.’

by Stella Hervey Birrell

Stella’s first novel, How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right? explores mental health recovery and was published by Crooked Cat Books in 2016. Shorter works have appeared in various places including The Guardian, and The Dangerous Woman Project. She blogs at #atinylife140, tweets at @atinylife140, Instagrams as Stella_hb and can be found on Facebook.