I’ve always written as a way to cope. As a kid, I kept diaries. I read a lot. I got into poetry when I was 18. I did a lot of standing on stage in the upstairs rooms of pubs ranting badly about drinking on night busses and wayward men who didn’t love me.
But I always had the sense that writing, in its many forms, is a form of healing. A tutor of mine once told me that poetry is about finding a second language, a sort of subliminal language to talk about the huge things and translate them into an experience; love, death etc. Subjects where our everyday language fails.
I had a rocky childhood. My glorious brother struggled with addiction in a world that didn’t have the language to talk about mental health, in a country with a grossly underfunded mental health service.
After he died when I was 20, I instinctively turned to writing. That isn’t to say that all pain must be turned into art. Sometimes, just getting through is enough. But I do believe that writing has saved me, many times over. It has been a small door to something else, given me time to process and say something to the world.
My first show was cathartic, but at times, felt like being broken apart
My first show Finding Home looked at his suicide. It was cathartic. It connected me with others who had been through something similar and allowed me to raise awareness. But it was, at times, like being broken apart.
And on some level, I was conscious that I was having to perform the show each night – to ‘go there’. I wondered if that was preventing me from saying the things I really wanted to say.
Losing the Night is the first thing I’ve written for other voices. It follows Liam and Mitch – two young people who work behind a bar – as they cope with the loss of their friend to suicide.
Through them, I’ve created a world where I can get more to the truth that bereavement is complex, absurd and myriad, and comes with feelings that are painful to admit. Through them, I could get deeper into the subject and say the things that are taboo, that I was too scared to say before. I could consider things from various perspectives. I could try and pick away at the stigma by shining a light on it.
Stories are the greatest breeders of empathy, and this is what theatre is; stories on stage. Yes, writing has always been a reconciling force for me, but I hope it will also inspire empathy in others as well as the greater understanding that’s achieved when a story is shared.
And it feels important to platform stories like this on stage in a country where suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45. I wanted to create a play that gave voice to the people who experience the mental health crisis in the UK on the front line and show them as human, real, funny and wonderful. I wanted to reach out and comfort anyone who’s been through the same – to say it’s okay to feel how they feel and create a piece that is challenging, but ultimately hopeful.
Losing the Night is at the Roundhouse, London from November 20-22