This year for World Mental Health Day (10 October) Newport’s The Riverfront Theatre and Arts Centre will be presenting a brand-new studio theatre show which they have co-produced with Four in Four Productions.
Gods & Kings (which runs from 9 – 11 October) is an emotionally honest and darkly funny account of what it is like to live a life ruled by mental illness. Set in Newport, the drama tells the true story of Paul who aged 23 and as a student studying in the city walks into a psychiatrist’s office believing he is either a god or a king. He leaves the office with a life changing diagnosis of bipolar manic depression.
Performed both in English by actor Robert Bowman and also through integrated British Sign Language by BSL performer Sami Thorpe, the thought provoking, powerful and moving two man drama follows the true story of Paul as he faces a life altering decision: take the pill and live, or don’t take the pill and die. Although tackling a serious topic, Gods & Kings features some light-hearted and comic moments as Paul comes to terms with his diagnosis; ‘if you can’t laugh at life’s misfortunes then surely they will kill you.’
After each performance there will be a post-show creative conversation with the creators and service users Paul and Tamsin, as well as a panel of special guests from across the health and social care sector. The purpose of the conversations are to open up discussions around the play and also start wider conversations around mental health as a whole in a safe and supported environment. Guest taking part in the conversations include representatives from Harmoni Cymru, Public Health Wales, the Mental Health Foundation, Gwent Arts in Health and local AM Jayne Bryant. Resources will accompany the production to help connect local people to mental health charities.
Writer Paul says,
‘At points this story is excruciatingly uncomfortable for me to share but on deciding to share my personal life in this way I knew the best way to make it mean something was to keep it authentic. There are moments from my life that I still can’t watch when they are portrayed on the stage because they will always be a part of me, but I know the value in sharing them by the comments that people have made after seeing it. And it’s the brutal honesty that people truly connect to.’
Co-director Tamsin adds,
‘We feel like this is a story that a lot of people connect to. It allows people to connect with the character in different ways. Even if they don’t understand anything about bipolar, they can empathise or gain an insight into the world of mental illness, and then that opens a whole breadth of conversation. What you get, is an insight into what happens after Paul leaves the psychiatrist room with a decision, “Do I take the Lithium, or don’t I take the Lithium? What part of me is me, and what part of me is the mental health? And if I take the Lithium, what parts of me will remain and what parts will I lose?” That’s where it becomes about the dilemma of identity and I think that’s what most people can really identify with. Through our lives, we all have those moments where we start to question who we are and our identity and our purpose.’
Dr John Boulton, Director of NHS Quality Improvement and Patient Safety/1000 Lives Improvement Service, Public Health Wales comments,
‘Gods and Kings provides a surprising, powerful and important insight into mental health service user experience and is a must-see for anyone with a role, or interest in, mental health. The play puts the patient at the heart of the story and challenges the audience with humour and grit. It is both a work of art, and a practical learning opportunity for colleagues in health and care.’
To find out who will appear at each conversation, and for tickets for the show call 01633 656757 or visit newportlive.co.uk/riverfront. There are a limited number of £5 tickets available for these shows for those aged 15 – 25.