Choo Choo! (Or… Have You Ever Thought About **** *****? (Cos I Have)) by StammerMouth was today announced as the winner of the 2023 Mental Health Foundation Fringe Award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
The Mental Health Foundation Fringe Award (formerly known as the Mental Health Fringe Award) was established in 2017 to recognise outstanding new creative work at the Edinburgh Fringe that opens up conversations about mental health.
The £5,000 award is now supported by the Cornwell Charitable Trust and presented in partnership with The Scotsman newspaper; it is dedicated to the memory of the late arts journalist Tim Cornwell, formerly part of the award’s judging panel. The award’s previous winners are Mental by Kane Power (2017), Electrolyte by Wildcard (2018), All of Me by Caroline Horton (2019) and Manic Street Creature by Maimuna Memon (2022).
Thanks to the support of the Cornwell Charitable Trust, each winner will now be offered a flexible package of support tailored to the needs of the show’s creative team and their future development. This may include mentoring support, mental health training and a contribution to production or touring costs, helping to bring the work to a wider audience and supporting the development of future creative projects.
Choo Choo! was as ultimately chosen from a shortlist of seven 2023 Edinburgh Fringe shows, selected in consultation with mental health professionals and The Scotsman’s team of arts critics.
The shortlist consisted of the following:
Choo Choo! (Or… Have You Ever Thought About **** *****? (Cos I Have)) (Pleasance Dome)
A new show from StammerMouth which begins as a simple, funny story of two best pals preparing to go on holiday, before gradually and ingeniously revealing itself as a brave and thoughtful exploration of the debilitating effect of intrusive thoughts, the stigma that surrounds them, and how honesty, friendship and trust can help to overcome shame and isolation.
Before The Drugs Kick In (theSpaceUK)
In New York writer Mike Lemme’s new play, a 62-year-old woman abandoned by her family in a psychiatric ward imagines – poignantly, angrily and hilariously – an alternative version of her life, in the form of a stand-up routine delivered by real-life comedian Maria deCotis. It’s the story of a woman punished, and declared mentally ill, at least partly because the role society has forced her to fulfil in life is unbearable for her.
King (Assembly @ Dance Base)
In a new show from Fishamble that combines masterful storytelling with tango dancing, Pat Kinevane delivers an outstanding performance as Luther, mostly housebound after a lifetime of mental health struggles rooted in traumatic childhood memories, as he prepares to go on a rare night out to sing Elvis songs at a wedding, and perhaps finally find love himself.
No Love Songs (Traverse)
A new piece of gig theatre co-written by Kyle Falconer (of The View) with his wife Laura Wilde and Johnny McKnight, No Love Songs tells the story of a young Dundee couple, Lana and Jesse, whose lives change when they become parents, Jesse is away for work, and Lana struggles with life-threatening post-natal depression. No Love Songs shines a light on a subject that can be difficult to talk about and has resonated strongly with audiences at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.
A hard-hitting show about suicides in the British prison system, this new show by LUNG and the North Wall combines choreography with voiceovers from interviews with families of prisoners, in order to show how, in its attempts to stop prisoners from hurting each other, an understaffed and under-resourced system made prison life so intolerable that many inmates were driven to hurt themselves. The show is a damning indictment of an avoidable mental health crisis.
No One is Coming (Scottish Storytelling Centre)
Sinead O’Brien’s “love letter to my mother that I’ll never send” combines painful recollections of growing up with a bipolar mother with a retelling of stories from Irish folklore that O’Brien’s father used to tell her when they were camping together following her parents’ separation. It’s an original and highly effective way of exploring mental health, combining two contrasting forms of storytelling – mythic, richly symbolic tales that nevertheless have a beginning, middle and end, and the lingering, unresolved challenges of day to day life with someone who is experiencing profound mental health difficulties.
How To Bury a Dead Mule (Pleasance Dome)
Written and performed by Richard Clements, this is the beautifully staged life story of a Royal Irish Fusilier, Norman Clements (Richard’s grandfather) who, like many soldiers, was so traumatised by the horrors he witnessed on the frontline of the Second World War that it affected him for the rest of his life. If it’s a familiar story, it’s one that is rarely told so vividly and movingly; the show is also a powerful history lesson about how long it took for society to understand the impact of PTSD.
Andrew Eaton-Lewis, arts programme officer for the Mental Health Foundation, said:
“We founded this award in 2017 in response to the increasing number of shows at the Edinburgh Fringe that were directly addressing mental health. We wanted to recognise and highlight this brave, boundary-pushing work and its powerful role in changing people’s perceptions.
“The shows shortlisted this year are among the most outstanding storytelling we have seen on this subject, from shows explicitly informed by lived experience, such as No One Is Coming, No Love Songs, Choo Choo! and How To Bury A Dead Mule, to work that is actively campaigning for systemic change, like Woodhill, and vivid, imaginative theatrical portrayals of a fictional character’s mental health struggles, such as King and Before The Drugs Kick In.
“All of these shows challenge us, as individuals and as a society, to think in a fresh way about mental health. All should be commended for it. We are looking forward to supporting StammerMouth to continue creating boundary-pushing work about mental health.”
Tim Cornwell worked for the Scotsman for many years as the newspaper’s arts correspondent. More recently he was part of the judging panel for the Mental Health Foundation Fringe Award, a subject close to his heart as someone living with bipolar disorder. Tragically Tim died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism in June 2022; he had just finished editing A Private Spy, a collection of letters by his father, the author John Le Carre, a task for which he would receive much acclaim in the months after his death. The Mental Health Foundation Fringe Award is dedicated to his memory.
The Mental Health Foundation Fringe Award is part of a year-round arts programme run by the Mental Health Foundation, the centrepiece of which is the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, which returns in October 2023. The full programme for this year’s SMHAF is announced on Monday 4 September at www.mhfestival.com, and the three-week Scotland-wide festival takes place from 4 – 22 October 2023 and will include both live and online programming, covering theatre, film, writing, visual arts and music.
For further information and interview requests, please contact Andrew Eaton-Lewis at email@example.com.