James Haddrell and how theatre makers use their stages

James Haddrell is the artistic and executive director of Greenwich Theatre

Working in theatre, I am privileged to have the opportunity to work with storytellers all year round. The tales they tell come from a range of sources, from pure imagination at one end of the scale – though it’s always worth looking a bit deeper at any show that claims to be purely imagined – to autobiographical experience at the other end. But in any particular year you can often see a theme or a series of themes emerging across theatre stages.

Fundamentally, having access to a stage and a company of actors creates a platform for the articulation of an opinion, the sharing of a set of views on any particular issue.

Whether animated by puppets, peppered with songs or presented as an immersive experience, a piece of theatre is ultimately a story told by a storyteller – and they have chosen their story for a reason.

Inevitably, the painful process of Brexit has found its way into theatres – from last autumn’s People Like Us at the Union Theatre in Southwark to January’s new writing festival Brexit Stage Left at the Yard Theatre in Hackney, or the new play Brexit at Tara Arts in Wandsworth next month. However, another theme that has emerged in the last two years is men’s mental health.

Less prevalent in the headlines, the issue has still emerged as something that theatre-makers want to discuss.

One company approaching the issue is Fledgling Theatre, coming to Greenwich Theatre in May with Neck Or Nothing.

“It all began when we saw the incredible documentary Project Grizzly all about the life of Canadian inventor, Troy Hurtubise,” the show’s creators Callum Cameron and Chris Neels told me. “Inspired by what we saw we began developing the piece with a series of performers with the support of several different theatres such as The New Diorama, Pleasance and Theatr Clwyd to create the show we are bringing to Greenwich.”

Inspired by real events, the show tells the story of a man who, after experiencing a traumatising near-death encounter with a grizzly bear in his youth, spends his entire life creating a suit that will enable him to come face-to-face with his greatest fear.

However, although initially seen as therapeutic, his obsession with his suit starts to take its toll on his personal and family life, as he becomes more and more divorced from reality.

After the performance on May 9 the company will host a post-show discussion on men’s mental health and toxic masculinity in partnership with CALMzone.

“Neck or Nothing tackles a lot of big issues surrounding male mental health” continued Mr Cameron and Mr Neels, “so we thought it was important to continue the discussion with anyone who is interested in the show or the subject.

“Men’s mental health is an important topic and we have had a really interesting time researching and exploring it, and are hoping to use the Q&A to increase awareness and share what we have learnt working on this show.”

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