The complex issues surrounding mental health are the subject of a new play which is coming to Sale's Waterside Arts Centre this month (November 26-28). 'What's The Matter With You?' is from Mighty Heart Theatre, and performers Lisa-Marie Hoctor and Samantha Edwards, and director Esther Dix discuss their inspiration for the play and what audiences can expect from the production.
What are the key issues around putting on a play about mental health?
Sam: 'It’s actually about real people, connections and disconnections, and everyday life. The poignant moments seem to be in the everyday. You sometimes have no idea what people are carrying with them. I think we’re trying to open up this conversation so that the more we talk about it, the better it’s going to be. We’ll all look after each other.'
Lisa-Marie: 'We did almost 100 interviews - face to face and self selecting anonymous surveys. What we’re learning from the verbatim material is that we’re all suffering to some extent whether it’s mild anxiety or lack of human communication or connection.We asked ourselves whether there is a way that we can convey this in a much safer and more fun way,'
Esther: 'What people said gave us the stimulus to develop the material, and we wanted to use puppets to convey complex stories. It’s easier to hear things through a slightly different medium - puppets can be more moving, and we wanted to recreate the worlds people live in. For example, one person sees their mental health as several different people - puppets allow us to more easily step into someone else’s shoes.'
How would you describe the theatre you make?
Both: 'Playful, fun, provocative, cheeky. We’re on your side. Like a warm hug off your best mate, we make a fool of ourselves, throw some glitter on you and then tell you a story that will change your world and change how you see yourself and other people.'
Lisa-Marie: 'We’re not limited by genre. The content opens the doors to the style of theatre we make. For example we have a song, and I don’t know how we’d get that story in the piece if it wasn’t in a song.'
Sam: 'It’s a brave show. We are telling stories, creating an experience, engaging with everyone in the room. Theatre has to speak to you.'
Why did you decided to have an installation to accompany the show?
Lisa-Marie: 'We can’t tell all the stories in the performance. Some of them do not lend themselves to the show but these are real stories and the material is so beautiful. Some are best as installations. For example we will have a tepee because one person we interviewed couldn't afford to go abroad on holiday and so put a tepee in her garden and listened to music. You can listen to this and you can experience it.'
Sam: 'We’ll be having activities too, like making finger puppets - lots of nice things to do. People can experience this before and after the show.'
What has the support from Waterside Arts Centre, Sale, and Creative Industries Trafford meant to you?
Lisa-Marie: 'The best thing is the deadline and the timescale. We would have made this piece without the commission, but this has enabled us to do it within a short timescale.'
Sam: 'It gives us a space to call our own. We feel it’s become our space, we’re very at home here in Sale. It’s a safe place to work out the piece.'
What will be your best memory of the production?
Lisa-Marie: 'Working with the puppets. It’s so far from how I viewed myself as a performer, I’d never been brave enough to work with a puppet. This production has transformed my way of seeing performance and the theatre I want to make.'
Sam: 'There’s been a big change for me. I see myself as an artist as much as a performer. I really feel that I can produce work that is not defined by a medium, and that I have found my pace and meaning as an artist. It’s realigned me to where I wanted to be.'
Esther: 'Seeing everyone trusting the medium of verbatim text - knowing that the stories will emerge through talking to people and discovering their real life experiences. If you’re brave enough to take the risk, the words you get are more extraordinary than you could imagine.'
Mighty Heart Theatre are the first theatre company to be supported through the 2015/16 To The Stage Theatre Commission from Waterside Arts Centre and Creative Industries Trafford. If you are interested in getting involved the next closing date is December 18.
'What's The Matter With You?', November 26-28, 7.30pm, Waterside Arts Centre, Sale. Tickets £8/£6.
See more theatre in Manchester from Time Out.