James Haddrell speaks on the value of theatre for mental health

The value of theatre to health and well-being has been increasingly recognised in recent years, for creatives, participants and audiences.

James Haddrell, artistic  director of Greenwich Theatre

At this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, mental health was one of the recurring topics covered in the huge variety of shows on offer, particularly with so many artists only now getting back to work after the hiatus caused by the pandemic (this will be clear in our own Edinburgh fringe transfer season, too. which is set to be announced very soon).

Back in 2018, before Covid and lockdown had become part of our day-to-day vocabulary, musician Matt McGuinness was struggling with his own mental health.

Knowing he had to find a solution or face an impossible, suicidal future, he decided to perform an unwritten show at the Fringe.

“It’s an old joke that doing the Fringe is cheaper than therapy,” wrote The Scotsman in their review, “but McGuinness has actually done the maths and can tell you the price difference.”

Now, five years on and clearly not put off by his Fringe experience, Matt is touring, with the show titled We Are What We Overcome weaving together tales of how he got to and came back from the brink of suicide.

As part of that tour he is set to present the show at Greenwich Theatre from October 5-7.

Matt delivers personal, difficult and eclectic stories, talking directly to the audience, interspersed with original songs, with styles ranging from soulful a cappella to rousing rock ‘n’ roll.

Split into two halves, the show moves fluidly through a mix of heartfelt stories and self-deprecating humour and music.

It is an intimate expression of McGuinness’ personal journey from the brink of despair to a rediscovery of hope and purpose.

“Bearing your soul on stage really breaks down barriers and sparks vital conversations,” he says.

“I speak directly to the audience about my mental health, which invokes an atmosphere of openness, and that comes with

“The post-show conversations are also invaluable. This is what it is all about – listening saves lives.”

For this special Greenwich run, Felicity Varah Harding, daughter of Samaritans Founder Chad Varah, and now Honorary President of the Samaritans, is set to attend the show, extending her gratitude to McGuinness.

Recognised for his collaborative efforts with the suicide prevention charity, McGuinness has been actively involving local branches as a source of support at each venue on his UK tour to fundraise and offer emotional support.

For the Greenwich run, supported by the Lewisham, Greenwich and Southwark branches of the Samaritans, all proceeds from the opening night on October 5 will be donated directly to the charity.

Varah Harding said: “Matt includes the Samaritans wherever he performs, which is fantastic.

“Having our volunteers present at these venues gives us a wonderful opportunity to support the mental health of the audience, as well as raise awareness and funds for suicide prevention.”


Picture Matt McGuinness, Picture: Bob Rushton

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