Distance is a timely piece exploring mental health and how this impacts on the individual, family, friends and wider society. Playwright Alex McSweeny developed Distance as five men he knew killed themselves in a little over five years, and he wanted to understand what lead to their decision. With 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental illness and with suicide being the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, and among many other male demographics across the world, it is more than a statistic- it is an epidemic. We need more open communication about this and Distance contributes to this dialogue.The timing of the play also coincided with World Suicide Day on 10th September 2018.
Adam Burton as Steven has many physical movements, turns of the head, and fist clenching head moments to indicate the pain he is in. He gives a powerful portrayal of a vulnerable member of society who does not know how or where to ask for help. This is counterbalanced with the comedy of Abdul Salis as friend Alan and Richard Corgan as The Duke, a happy-go-lucky chap with a unique take on life.
Unfortunately, Steven’s wife Sonya, is presented as a take-no-nonsense one dimensional character, and as much as Lindsay Fraser tried, it was difficult for her to develop this character further. At times, the writing made it seem all Steven’s troubles stem from her, when in-fact the issues of mental health and suicide ideation are far more complex. Doreen Blackstock plays a host of characters well including a waitress, a member of a religious organisation and a train conductor.
Simon Pittman’s direction and Bethany Wells’ set design are very much part of the narrative. The chaotic nature of the first scene, where many seats and props are moved backwards and forwards, echos the chaos in Steven’s mind. There is a screen that displays the greenery of their journey to Manchester, but will turn black and reflect Steven’s face in those moments where the ‘Black Dog’ is threatening to overtake. The low level lighting scenes and the shadows cast on the wall also help convey the darkness Steven is experiencing. All these elements work wonderfully to show the emotional distance and isolation faced by Steven. The fact that this is a 90 minute production with no interval helps keep the pace moving.
The world premier of Distance was bought to us by Fine Line Productions, Rough Fiction and Park Theatre. Indeed, Fine Line, play-write Alex McSweeney and director Simon Pittman have returned to the Park Theatre following their acclaimed Out Of The Cage. Distance was first developed on Park Theatre’s Script Accelerator Programme 2016 and is part of a new initiative between Park Theatre and Mind to introduce rehearsal practices that protect the actors’ mental health.
Given the subject matter, a number of organisations have also supported this production including Mind- for better mental health, The Stuart Low Trust- bringing people together, and CALM- Campaign Against Living Miserably. They are joined by Royal Victoria Hall Foundation and Stage One.
I applaud Distance for furthering the discussion about Male mental health and suicide. If there’s one thing you take away from Distance, remember it’s OK not to be OK.
Distance is performing until 29th September 2018. Evening performances are Tuesday to Saturday at 19:45 and matinees are on Thursdays and Sundays at 15:15. There are audio described performances on Friday 28th Sep at 19.45 with a Touch Tour at 18.00.
There are many extras available with Distance:
⁃ On Tuesday 18th September there is a post-show discussion with local health and wellbeing charity, The Stuart Low Trust, and the cast and creatives of Distance. See http://www.slt.org.uk
⁃ On Wednesday 19th September there is a post-show discussion with the cast and director of Distance, Simon Pittman.
⁃ On Thursday 27th September at the Matinee performance there is a post-show discussion with the mental health charity, Mind, and the cast and creatives of Distance. See http://www.mindinharingey.org.uk
Tickets are £18 for standard adult, £16.50 for concession, £10 for young patrons and £13 for those under 16 years of age. The run time is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes with no interval.
Address: Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, London N4 3JP
Phone: 020 7870 6876
Written by Caitlin Neal
If you or anyone you know may be experiencing a metal illness then please contact confidential helplines and sources of support.
-Samaritans (24 hours) 08457 90 90 90or www.samaritans.org
-PARYRUS (Prevention of Young Suicide) 0800 068 41 41. Open Monday to Fridays 10am-5pm and 7pm-10pm. www.papyrus-uk.org
-CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably). 0800 58 58 58. Open 7 days a week, 5pm-midnight. www.thecalmzone.net
-SANE 0845 767 8000. Open 7 days a week 6-11pm. www.sane.org.uk
-MIND 0300 123 3393. Open Monday-Friday 9am-6pm. www.mind.org.uk
-Maytree 0207 263 7070. www.maytree.org.uk/index.php