In 2016-17, 34,100 homeless applications were made in Scotland. On Any Given Night gives a stage to the faces and personalities behind these numbers, forcing us to look beyond the figures and ask why this is still the case.
The play introduces its audience to an energetic foursome spending a night on an unnamed Glasgow street. Stevie (Liam Lambie), David (Ross McAree), Moira (Clare Rooney) and Hannah (Laura Lovemore) are an unlikely group of friends held together by their situation. Their homelessness is explained in the context of their own lives and those who weave in and – more often than not – out of contact with them. This simple meeting allows us to think about broad themes such as depression, addiction, feminism and hope.
For Lambie, the play’s writer and lead actor, this is central to its success:
“I wanted to focus on the struggles these people face, both on the streets and on the journey that led them there. It's so easy to place blame on them for their situation, but hasn't everyone been down on their luck? And doesn't the blame lie with us as a society who ignores the struggle of these people and either don't think to or choose not to help?”
This humanity is central to the drama. Each actor brings to their role a believability and energy that resonates throughout the audience. Every person I spoke to during the interval related to something on stage. But this is no pity party. These are believable characters that demand respect as well as sympathy.
The production avoids a common mistake of much politically charged theatre – making things too comfortable. It highlights the key problem within society by first foregrounding the response of the audience.
The first act is held together by Lambie’s jam-packed script. The characters riff off one another with a never-ending stream of typically Glaswegian insults and humour. The audience is relating to them and laughing with them. By the second half we are directly asked why, if we are so similar, are we comfortable with passing their real-life counterparts on the street?
The acting is extremely high quality, with each person on stage tackling this weighty play with humour, energy and personality. Director Glynis Wozniak, whose management of a complex script and a last-minute change in cast is impressive, also plays a witty cameo.
Compelling and thought-provoking, On Any Given Night deserves a wide audience and its message would translate to any city in the UK.
by Kirsty Strang-Roy
'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.
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.
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.