As I walk into the Boat Shed Theatre I am greeted by one of Pub Talks’ actors. She asks me to write down three things that made me happy today. I then find my seat and am approached by another cast member who hands me a packet of crisps; I get lucky with prawn cocktail. It is at this point that I realise the words “actor” and “cast member” are not the right fit for this production. There will be no fourth wall here. This is to be, as the show’s title suggests, a conversation. Real people talking about their real experiences with mental health.
It’s a heavy topic, but this is not to say that the piece itself is relentlessly melancholy. We are guided through the spectrum of emotions which characterise depression by the show’s four members; Rosa Day-Jones, Dylan Frankland, Tobias Grace and Megan Luke. Feelings of sadness, tiredness and anger, amongst countless others, are part of the discussion, and yet the team of four manage to inject the piece with humour too. We are told of a debilitating condition which one in five people suffer from: dandruff. Luke then addresses an even more common problem, affecting a quarter of the population: a diagnosable mental health condition. This technique of moving quickly yet delicately, from light-hearted to hard-hitting subjects is used throughout Pub Talks, allowing the team to deliver their crucial message: we must shatter the stigmas surrounding mental health.
The show is fast-paced and varied. There’s origami, magic tricks, music, dance, string (lots of string) and even more crisps. The use of tech is innovative and highly effective – who knew you could recreate the exact sound of a moving train with a saucepan, a cheese grater and half a bag of dried penne? We are taken deep into the brain where we meet the cerebrum (Frankland clad in fairy lights) and then whisked back to the Boat Shed to hear the cast’s personal experiences with mental health. The audience accepts each new performance technique, each emotional change readily. We have been made comfortable in this space and are willingly follow our four guides through the piece.
What is particularly impressive is the group’s depth of knowledge and attention to detail which is clearly the result of dedicated research. They are aware of the delicacy of language which surrounds mental health, explaining the danger of meeting someone’s anxiety with the reassurance “no-one cares”. The piece has kept up with current affairs; we hear the empty promises of our politicians and a special shout-out goes to the DUP. In just one hour, Pub Talks covers the many facets of mental health without leaving the audience feeling rushed off their feet. It is an impressive achievement.
The team aims to tour the show, taking it outside of traditional theatre spaces and into schools, businesses and community spaces in order to educate people about mental health. I leave wondering if I have learnt anything. For a while I’m not sure, I consider myself to be pretty clued-up about mental health already. However, the next night I find myself writing down three things that made me happy that day. I tell my mum and housemates and now we’re all doing it. Pub Talks has clearly had an impact on the way I approach my mental health and has also encouraged me to check in on those around me. I’ve learnt a valuable lesson and I’m certain that if the group are able to tour the piece, many other people will have a similar experience.
4/5 stars ★★★★☆
Photo credit – Harry Neal
Although Pub Talks’ has had its final performance at The Boat Shed (for the moment), you can follow @dylanfrankland for Twitter updates, or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information regarding future tours, opportunities etc.