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THEATRE: Who wants to play games with suicide?

5 Out of 10 Men is a raucous new piece of ensemble theatre about modern masculinity and mental health, told through one man’s crises, which is heading to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer. Here, producer, writer and director Roland Reynolds shares how the show came about.

We’re making a piece of theatre about and mental health. Some days I don’t want to make theatre on this subject.

This is personal. I was a young boy when suicide dropped like a quiet snow over my family; shortly afterwards, at 11, I went to live away from home and I began to have suicidal fantasies. They played out in a rich and vivid imagination and have continued to this day. As I grew older, poetry and imagery became a sublimation for this agonising creativity. Inspired by my friend and teacher, Gareth, they entangled me in their theatre of dreams and drama.  They drove to me to the deepest self-exploration and through them I found the power of fun and play to overcome fear and face pain with courage and honesty.

Coming up to a year ago now I met Duncan Alldridge through a mutual friend. Duncan suffered a major breakdown six years ago, since which he worked extensively with groups of men fearlessly interrogating crisis, challenging loneliness, raising hope.

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After some years deep into the work he was looking for a writer/director to take his journey in a new direction and when we met there was an instant recognition between us. Duncan comes from a strong background of ensemble play, movement and improvisation, while I have tried to make theatre that is raw, personal, feminist, expressionist and surreal. Our thoughts and aims aligned in myriad fascinating ways and we agreed to make this work together.

We decided to open a unique space to develop this work, a playing space into which we invited actors whom these issues have already acutely affected. We work, we share our thought, our feelings, our distress and healing, and we play. The eagerness of so many performers to share their most intimate relationship to this subject was overwhelming. So many people carry these thoughts around within them unspoken; those who answered our invitation were desperate to share their pain in our working playground and their strength has energised and astonished us.

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Even so, some days I don’t think we should make theatre about this stuff.

This isn’t scientific. We can’t get to a solution this way. We need authors, professors, journalists and commentators, talkers and thinkers to think and talk, for four hours a night for two weeks with a vast audience that can ask questions and join the debate. Maybe then we’ll be getting somewhere.

Concerns over male depression no longer come from a vacuum; the conversation is being had, the lid is beginning to come off. We’re becoming aware that the stigma attached to male vulnerability is causing a lot of harm to everybody. We are finding out that male depression isn’t rare or some amazing thing.

In his book I Don’t Want to Talk About It, Terrence Real writes in depth about recognising overt and covert depressions, the latter often prevalent in men. He discusses the polarised spectrum of the internalisation and externalisation of pain, and how our depression affects our own lives and the lives of those around us. A “hidden depression drives several of the problems we think of as typically male: physical illness, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, failures in intimacy, self-sabotage in careers”.

Still there’s a terrible cover-up going on in our culture, even as recognition increases. It’s so common that it is hardly acknowledged, often by the men who suffer the most themselves.

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We’re making a piece of theatre about men, masculinity and mental health because we want to acknowledge this struggle, and it’s not at the expense of any other struggle. We’re learning to play games with the scary and often beautiful places inside ourselves. We’re making enquiries that we want to articulate and offer up to a much broader human debate that is happening right now.

Theatre is holes, questions, awakening consciousness and not-knowing along the interwoven paths of a handful of unfolding lives. The theatre makes no promise to give the whole picture; it must simply tell the truth. We come into a room and we watch people living; we are watching ourselves recognise that life is hard, that my life is not about me, that I am not in control.

Created by Deep Diving Ensemble and Fragen Theatre Company, 5 Out of 10 Men premieres at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016 and runs 5-17 August, in co-production with theSpaceUK.  Click for more info and tickets.

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