Every week, for one week only, we are showcasing a film of a theatre show from a previous SMHAF, with brand new programme notes. To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, from 18-24 May we are delighted to bring you Electrolyte by Wildcard Theatre, winner of the Mental Health Fringe Award in 2018.
Electrolyte is a multi-award winning piece of gig theatre that powerfully explores mental health for a contemporary audience. It is available to watch for free but if you would like to support SMHAF you can buy a 'pay what you can' ticket here.
Launched in 2017, the Mental Health Fringe Award recognises the Edinburgh Fringe show that most compellingly explores mental health. Each year’s winner is invited to perform as part of the following year’s Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, in partnership with the Tron Theatre.
Electrolyte, which won the award in 2018, stood out from the crowd for a few reasons. In a field heavily populated – understandably – by one-person shows, Wildcard Theatre’s show was something quite different: a noisy and exhilarating piece of gig theatre telling a story with numerous characters, created and performed by a closely knit ensemble of musicians and singers. Its subject matter was unusual too. While the Edinburgh Fringe was seeing a steady increase in shows exploring anxiety and depression, this one was about psychosis – a condition that still feels more difficult to talk about publicly due to the stigma still attached to it.
Electrolyte has become something of a phenomenon since it premiered at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe, where it quickly became a sold out hit. The Mental Health Fringe Award was just one of numerous theatre prizes it won that year, and the show’s SMHAF dates in 2019 were part of an ambitious three month UK-wide tour, the first time Wildcard had performed so widely. That summer Electrolyte returned to the Edinburgh Fringe for a second run, and once the Coronavirus lockdown is over there are plans to tour it internationally.
This is a remarkable story for a show about a woman enduring a psychotic episode during which she abandons all the people who love her. Electrolyte’s strength, though, is that it is fundamentally a show about friendship – it is Jessie’s loyal, understanding friends who help her through one of the most difficult times in her life. Also, the songs are terrific.
The show has its roots in very personal experiences. Electrolyte's writer James Meteyard explains: “A close family member of mine went through a psychotic breakdown. This was a very scary time as we lost them inside their own mind for a while and we were worried we wouldn't get them back. Having had no prior experience with mental health problems this made me think that a psychotic episode is something that could happen to anyone. I also thought that there must be so many people who don't have a support network or perhaps don't realise that they are someone's support network.
“Whilst the events in the show are entirely fictional, I felt compelled to write a piece that both showed the power of the mind through one person's experience but also championed the importance of community and togetherness in combating poor mental health. Since we first presented the piece in 2018 we have performed 99 shows across the UK and Ireland. During this time many people have shared their experiences with me, and told us how this piece has affected them. It has been a way for some people to be able to communicate their own experience to loved ones, it has given others the courage to accept an experience which happened to them in the past but they had never spoken about, and it has allowed many to feel that they are not alone in their experiences and are absolutely fine just the way they are. We've had some people come to see the piece up to ten times and it brings me so much joy to see familiar faces come back again and again.
“Whilst the future of theatre is so uncertain and we're living in these strange, scary and isolated times, I hope sharing the recorded version, from when we first shared the piece back at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018, will allow people some sense of connection and comfort. And I hope any new people who see this recording for the first time, will come and see the live event when theatres reopen again. Thanks for watching and I hope you enjoy the show."
JESSIE Olivia Sweeney
PAUL Ben Simon
DONNA Megan Ashley
RALPH Chris Georgiou
ALLIE Maimuna Memon
JIM James Meteyard
Writer James Meteyard
Music and Lyrics Maimuna Memon
Director Donnacadh O’Briain
Associate Director James Meteyard
Producer Joey Dawson
Costume Design Hannah Hodge
Lighting Design Timothy Kelly
The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival is led by the Mental Health Foundation.