Mental health is something that affects all of us in one way another through our lives, whether it’s relating to someone we love – a family member or friend, or we may experience challenging periods with our own mental health; which is why it feels fantastic to be facing a new era where mental health is finally being discussed more and more, especially in theatre and the arts. Mental Health is something I believe we especially need to keep talking about within the LGBT+ community, as statistically a higher percentage of our community will experience a mental health issue than those that don’t identify as LGBT+. It’s for this reason we were especially keen to speak with playwright Sally Lewis, whose new play Glasgow14, explores male mental health through her one man show. We managed to catch up with her last week, prior to her heading off to the Edinburgh Fringe. – Amie Taylor, Editor.
AT: Tell us a little bit about you as a writer and your journey in to becoming a playwright?
SL: I started off as a health and fitness writer, as I’m a health and fitness consultant. But I started to write and became an author of health, diet and fitness books and wrote articles too. Then I started to expand and do other types of work for magazines. I moved in to playwriting when I went with a friend to a creative writing class; we were going to take another friend of ours, who was suffering from a mental health problem at the time, and she ended up not coming along, but we still did. My creative writing tutor suggested I entered a couple of competitions, which I did and I was very lucky to win, and then suggested that there was a 2 year playwriting course at The Nuffield Theatre in Southampton, so I applied for that and I was accepted, it was from there that my playwriting developed. I’ve had some small plays on up in London and Salisbury and Southampton, and I was at the Fringe two years ago with a play that dealt with the subject of human trafficking, titled How is Uncle John? And now I’m here with this one.
AT: Which is Glasgow14. What inspired you to write this piece?
SL: I’m interested in mental health, in particular from having a personal experience with mental health struggles with my son. That’s how my interest took root and has developed into a fascination for how men relate to each other and how they perceive mental health. It was a collaboration as Neil was also keen to present something regarding mental health. So we decided to look at a particular way in which to construct the narrative: so it’s ordinary men, leading ordinary lives and they are drawn together because of an incident. We decided to use a real incident rather than a fictional one, which is the tragedy that occurred in Glasgow’s George Square in Christmas 2014 incident, but we don’t really focus on that incident.
AT: You say you have your own links to mental health, and I think this is something everyone has, whether it’s regarding their own mental health, or that of a friend or family member. What research did you undertake alongside your own personal experiences to inform the piece?
SL: Because of my background in health and fitness writing, I’m a member of the Guild of Health writers, so I have quite a lot of professional medical contacts, I spoke to psychotherapists, neuroscientists and analysts, and I spoke to people who suffer from the conditions touched on in the play. I looked at a lot of statistics. I also spoke to several charities involved in mental health, and some are supporting the play.
AT: Which ones?
SL: Brothers in Arms are supporting us, and CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), which is terrific because they’re behind the play and the concept. And I think theatre, like any art form, is such a great way of being able to present these ideas in a different way.
AT: Obviously it’s important to open up these topics and talk about them, but is there anything you hope people will take away from watching?
SL: More of a recognition, that the characters we’re portraying are just ordinary people. If by some chance we can signpost people so that they just don’t feel alone and cut off, that they can find the strength to talk, then we’ll have succeeded with the play. I’m not saying somebody can solve their problems straight away, but just being able to dump it somewhere. And other people accept that it’s just being dumped – you don’t have to fix it. I think that’s the big message. Because, at the time, it’s just about listening.
Sally Lewis is the writer of Glasgow ’14, a piece of new writing for theatre which visits theSpace @ Surgeon’s Hall – Theatre 3, at EdFringe 2018, from Aug 3-4, 6-11, 13-18 at 20.10 (50 min).
From award-winning director Benet Catty, this one-man show examines the ‘unseen’ illness of male mental health through the eyes of four different male characters, coping day to day, when an unexpected trauma sets the picture unravelling.
For more information, visit http://www.nagsheadproductions.co.uk