About 50% of my Fringe has been productions centred on mental health issues, and I genuinely thought that I'd seen all there was to see on this topic. So I was pleasantly surprised that even on the last day of the Fringe, I found an interesting new take – that of a verbatim musical.
A verbatim musical is difficult enough as it is, even without trying to focus on the challenging topic of mental health. But Lund Theatre do a fine job of using song along with a variety of musical instruments to bring out issues, particularly in adolescents. Different stories overlap, and with 15 cast members, they cover a plethora of topics – from anxiety and depression to bullying and addiction.
What sets this production apart from some others was the dialogue around the wider problems – lack of training of school counsellors, the apathy of unmotivated teachers, and funding cuts leading to long waiting times to be seen by psychologists. The production appreciates that these problems exist and even proposes some solutions; for a 50-minute time slot, I am impressed with the ground they cover. The cast is also very musically sound – the intermingling of different voices sounds lovely, as do the trombone, violin and other unusual instruments.
Two things could have been better. First, for obvious reasons, it would have been nice if the statistics quoted hadn't covered England only. The second concern is a missed opportunity for diversity among such a large cast; 11 out of 15 are male, and the overwhelming majority are white. This doesn't reflect the society we live in, nor the British schools which form the focus of the work.
A more representative choice would have added a whole new dimension – highlighting the added barriers that some people face because of their gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. The focus here is on adolescents, and the development of their personalities and ensuing struggles are a key cause of mental health issues in that demographic.
Having said that, this is a worthy production, tacking a delicate subject in a brave and usual way. The Fringe run has ended, but do catch them elsewhere if you can.