'Someone decides to keep going'
This was the moment in the performance where the power of words clicked into an intense focus. Keep going. Despite being a woman. Because you are a woman. That’s the central theme of this three-hander, self-referential ‘cabaret’ with music, penned by AJ Taudevin.
As the play opens, a small space lit in reds and pinks is filled with two women and one man. At times they felt like one person, and sometimes like a room full of people, due in no small part to unobtrusive and fluid choreography by Maryam Hamidi.
The prologue set the tone, as each actor skilfully threaded their lines into a seamless multiplicity of voices, reminiscent of a much edgier Under Milk Wood, using the repeated words ‘someone’ and ‘somewhere’. In a nod to the SMHAF, one of the lines was: ‘Someone picks up a brochure for a mental health festival.’ This image of ‘someone, somewhere’ becomes both a motif which linked the work together, and a way to bring the audience in: somewhere, became ‘near here’ and later just ‘here’.
The script is both enthusiastic, and self-aware: ‘It was nearly called The Rape Clause Cabaret!’ It holds no punches, nor becomes preachy or po-faced: laughs are plentiful throughout. The work covers a wide range of topics: Trump, and the Pussy Hat/Women’s marches which took place in the US. Direct connections to Brexit, and women’s portrayal in the media. A tutorial on the word ‘gaslighting’ and its origin. A good deal about the Rape Clause, with a chilling description provided in a Westminster quote, delivered perfectly by Annie Grace. In part, chilling because it creates an accurate representation of what Westminster sounds like, having one person make a speech, while a man shouts ‘moo, moo’ in the background.
Despite feeling very much ‘of its time,’ with several references to recent news and political events – the significance of attending this play on the day #MeToo was trending on Twitter – and the inclusion of historical references to Hippocrates’ definition of hysteria and quotes from Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway gives the play a universal feel.
In a poignant ‘Testimony’ section, each actor voiced several quotes from women who have been silenced in the past. What was inspiring in those moments was watching the faces of the other actors onstage. It was particularly poignant to watch George Drennan, a token man for a change, listening, really listening.
The programme for the play includes lyrics to a song I Can’t Keep Quiet by Milck. Prospective attendees can relax: you will not be required to sing. But if, like me, you are so entranced by the play’s emotional and uplifting finale, you will leave humming the tune. There is nothing to keep quiet about here, Hysteria! is an entertaining but also important piece of theatre for the times we are living through. And not just for women, for all of us.
by Stella Hervey Birrell
Stella Hervey Birrell’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 here.
Hysteria! has now finished its run at Oran Mor and the Traverse Theatre, as part of A Play A Pie and A Pint, but we are hosting a drop-in workshop on Sexism & Mental Health at the Women of the World Festival in Perth. It takes place on Sat 28 Oct from 2-4.30pm.
You Matter Always brings young people and professionals together to share ideas on how arts and culture can positively impact mental health and wellbeing.
Talking Heads reporter Jo Osborne hosts this discussion after a brainstorming session at the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival to develop ideas for the You Matter Always programme for Scotland’s Year of Young People in 2018. The discussion featured: Suzanne Beins, creator of You Matter Always; Alan Clark, Project Manager at Create Paisley; Reuben Millward from RAMH; and Sophie Paterson, a 13-year-old filmmaker whose short film Patience won first place at St Matthew’s’ silent film competition during the festival.
On Saturday 14th October, Men’s Mental Health Day at SMHAF 2017 featured a programme of events, including short films, features and workshops, dedicated to exploring issues of mental health and masculinity. Screenings of films like Being Greene and Becoming Cary Grant – winner of Best Feature Documentary at the SMHAF International Film Awards – were received warmly, often with a distinct sense of recognition, expressed through knowing smiles and teary eyes.
The issue of men’s mental health is deeply embedded in the zeitgeist of this age. Statistics showing high rates of suicide and untreated mental ill health in male-identifying people are so widely known that, as a society, we rarely deem it necessary to discuss them. Indeed, in the face of political attacks on women’s rights and a resurgence in anti-feminism in recent years, it is no wonder that men’s issues are often met with a shrug. But, in the age of Trump and ‘meninism’, how fascinating and vital it is to examine people’s varied experiences of masculinity through the prism of mental health.
The principal lesson of the day was, for me, simple: when we define masculinity in strict terms, everyone loses. I saw a diverse array of men making art about emotions, and talking about their feelings onscreen in ways that so many men that I have known would have resisted. The arts are inherently political, and what I saw was an act of rebellion against oppressive gender stereotyping.
In a period during which gender paradigms have shifted so dramatically – and, yet, the machismo and unchecked narcissism of several male leaders threaten the continued existence of our planet – it is clear that the concept of masculinity has to be readdressed and redefined. The art I saw at this event is proof that attempts to do so can be cathartic for both the artist and the audience – regardless of gender. Indeed, the atmosphere throughout the day was joyous, and the films were received gratefully by audiences, who are so often deprived of recognisably human subjects.
Men’s Mental Health Day was a battle cry for positive change in the face of what so often, especially in 2017, seems to be perpetual regress. It made me feel hopeful.
by Alice Smith
Image by Oscar Lewis from his short film Waterfall, which won Best Animation at SMHAF 2017 and screened during Men's Mental Health Day.
Talking It Over... is a series of podcasts hosted by Nicole Bell and Iain Mitchell of Support in Mind Scotland as part of the Talking Heads project at the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival.
In the first episode, Looking On: An Audience with Mental Health, the focus is firmly on theatre and how the stage acts as a platform for representing mental ill health. It features compelling interviews with Mark Lockyer, writer and star of Living with the Lights On, and Andrew Eaton-Lewis, arts lead for the Mental Health Foundation, as well as an in-depth discussion involving their colleague Laura Gulliver on AJ Taudevin's insightful political cabaret Hysteria!
Support in Mind Scotland seek to support and empower all those affected by mental illness, including family members, carers and supporters. To find out more, visit their website.
Nicole Bell is the Capacity Building Officer for Support in Mind Scotland. Splitting her time between Fife and Edinburgh, she is frequently spotted catching up with friends while exploring the gastronomic delights at either end of the Forth Road Bridge. Find her on Twitter at @nicolebellcurve.
Iain Mitchell is Community Partnership Fundraising Officer for the mental health charity Support in Mind Scotland. A lover of cinema, Popmaster on Radio 2, animal odd-couples, Iron Maiden and checked shirts. Find him on Twitter @toast2toast9.
Inspired by director Joey Klein’s personal experience with grief, The Other Half is a modern love story involving Nickie (Tom Cullen), a man haunted by the loss of a family member, and Emily (Tatiana Maslany), an artist with bipolar disorder.
Best described by the w ord anticipation, The Other Half alternates ambient light with powerful colours, loud and sometimes edgy music, tense dialogue and prominent body language, building up each character’s image little by little. Whether that is Klein’s way of deliberately dispensing information about his characters, or due to the complexity of how mental health issues impact on interpersonal relationships, is up for every one of us to decide.
Nickie is a British guy living abroad in Canada, with a history of changing girls, fights at night clubs and scars on his knuckles. Heartbeats, blurry flashbacks follow him throughout the film, building up an impression of a grieving guy with deep internal struggles. As the story progresses, we find out that Nickie’s brother has disappeared five years ago, leading to a deep hole in his family. Nickie’s fragmented relationship with his parents becomes apparent from the numerous monotonous conversations over the phone that persist throughout the movie.
Emily, a colourful, playful and mysterious artist, appears – accidently or not – in the right place at the right time to “save” Nickie. But it does not take long for their blazing love at first sight to turn into a rollercoaster of emotions. The tender scenes of love and intimacy soon grow up into something more than just being “high on love”. Emily goes through an excruciating manic episode which sees loud music, paint and colours followed by some of the most intense moments in the film.
Some months later Emily and Nickie start a journey in which shared moments of intimacy and laughter are accompanied with a taste of bitterness. They create a combustable ‘push-and-pull’ relationship, desperately needing each other but struggling to maintain a balance because of the accumulated problems with their families and themselves. Introduced as a violent guy, Nickie remains silent and passive in the second half of the film. Once finding expression through anger, his feelings of distance and helplessness become even more apparent through the contrast with Emily. On or off medication, she struggles to be in control of herself, even as she tries to cope with her emotions for the sake of their happiness.
The Other Half is not a story in which love wins against all the odds. It is a quiet drama that represents reality as it is, with no sugar-coating. Its main goal is to present a realistic depiction of what love can bring and take when it happens between people with similar internal issues. The end of the film remains open for the audience to fill in the gaps, yet still everyone knows that despite having each other, Nickie is not going to stop grieving and Emily is not going to get better. It made me ask myself whether finding your other half is all you need, when you do not know your other self.
by Katerina Gospodinova
Katerina is a final year PhD student in molecular psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh. She believes that art and science can work hand in hand to raise awareness and fight the preconceptions surrounding mental illness. Follow her on Twitter at @KaterinaGospodi.