When I first saw this play, it felt like I was hit with a sledgehammer

A Cork cast are to perform a play on youth suicide at Cork Arts Theatre next month. COLETTE SHERIDAN spoke to those involved, from the director to the playwright and the suicide prevention group who are behind the production.
When I first saw this play, it felt like I was hit with a sledgehammer
The Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Tony Fitzgerald , who received The Shine a Light group who are bringing the play 'Bring Me Back Alive' - about suicide awareness to Cork Arts theatre from March 1 to 3 rd. Included from left are Joanne McNamara , HSE; Joe D'alton, treasurer; Cllr Mick Nugent, and Ann Long committee; Darren Kelleher, Play director and Actors Vision; Letitia Hill, chairperson Shine a Light, Cork, and Jim Doherty, JD Scaffolding, sponsors.

A HEARTBREAKING, informative and at times, comedic play that deals with youth suicide is being staged at the Cork Arts Theatre from March 1 to 3.

The production of Bring Me Back Alive by Dublin-based writer Patricia McCann is supported by ‘Shine A Light’.

This Cork community group is involved in suicide prevention as well as supporting people affected by suicide and promoting positive mental health.

The play has previously been brought from Dublin to Cork with the most recent staging of it taking place at the Firkin Crane in March, 2017. This year, a Cork cast will perform the play, directed by Darren Kelleher of Actors Vision, based in South Terrace.

Daren, 36, who does theatre work for schools as well as giving classes in acting for the camera, was told about Bring Me Back Alive by Joe Dalton of Shine A Light.

“Joe told me the play is very emotional and every time he watches it, he’s in tears afterwards,” says Darren.

“Now, I’m a cynic. I’ve been around theatre long enough to know that when people tell me these things, they’ve often oversold something to me. But I went to see the play last March and it was like a sledgehammer.”

Darren was amazed how the play affected him.

“It deals with such a current topic. I think all of us have been affected by suicide. It’s such an ongoing thing.

“We have adapted the play slightly, adding a prologue scene. So the very first scene is a boy (nicknamed Pablo) in his room on his last night. We don’t see anything overly graphic. It’s just Pablo taking off his shoes and his watch and putting them on a table. He picks up a letter which he leaves on the table. Then it’s lights out and onto the script as it’s written.”

The play then moves to a youth centre. It’s a couple of weeks after Pablo’s suicide and his friends are trying to deal with it.

“Some of them are not dealing with it so well. That manifests itself in aggressive behaviour. They just don’t want to talk about it. They’re in denial. Then there’s the female element who want to talk about it and express their emotions. It’s really about a collection of friends who are trying to sift their way through what has happened to them, with very little support, which can be reflective of the world we live in.”

Darren lost a friend to suicide 12 years ago. Living in London at the time, he got a phone call from his mother who told him the bad news. He was shocked.

“When I see the mother character in the play walking out onto the stage, it floors me every time.”

Act 1 and Act 3 take place in a youth centre. The middle act focuses on Pablo’s mother, Kay, performed by Alma Kickham, who shares the role with Deirdre Dunlea over five performances, including matinees.

The play has “a surreal or supernatural scene where Pablo comes back. In his monologue, he explains what was going through his head”.

The final act is serious but aims to leave people on a hopeful note.

“One of the messages of the play is that for anyone thinking about taking their life, there is help out there.”

The award-nominated “Bring Me Back Alive” play is written by  Patricia McCann.
The award-nominated “Bring Me Back Alive” play is written by  Patricia McCann.

Darren adds that he and his cast and crew had quite a debate about the art work for the play.

“What we have is a tree on a hill that is losing its leaves because it’s autumn. The idea is that, even in the darkest times, spring or summer is around the corner. There is hope. There always is if you go and seek it. If you need professional help, it’s out there and it can change things.”

Pablo’s mother, Kay, is played by actress Alma Kickham, who says, her character has something of a breakdown.

“In the church, she is shouting at God because she has lost her son. But there’s a section in the play where she thinks Pablo is still alive. She is asking him to answer his phone. Later in the play, she seems to be able to cope much better, having been devastated and disoriented.”

Alma hopes the play will be of help to young people and their parents as well.

“I know of people who’ve been through (the suicide of family members) and it’s horrendous.”

As a forum for engaging young people, Alma feels theatre “gets through to young people much more so than talking to them ‘til the cows come home.

“I think when they see the play acted out, they’ll see the damage suicide causes but also, they’ll see that help is there if they’re willing or able to accept it.”

A spokesperson from Shine A Light, an interagency group supported by the HSE and Cork City Partnership among other organisations, says: “We can respond to the community when something happens. We try to engage with schools through things like this play. If there has been a suicide, myself and a health worker on duty for the steering group of Shine A Light will co-ordinate a response in the community.”

Shine A Light promotes general mental health.

“We wouldn’t be completely focused on suicide. Good mental health and wellbeing in the community is important. So there is always the positive side of our work. In the last few years, there has been a huge focus on wellbeing across the board. There are a lot more resources around now such as the HSE’s ‘The Little Things’ campaign which promotes positive mental health.”

Shine A Light, which is in the process of becoming a limited company and is seeking charitable status, gets schools to see the suicide play and support the messages in it. The spokesperson says it’s suitable for pupils from Transition Year upwards.

Highlighting issues through the arts is a really good way to get their message across, the spokesperson said.

“We’re always looking for ways of engaging young people. Bring Me Back Alive is written in a light hearted way in places so that people can engage with it. It’s not all heavy. It gives people the choice during the play to really think about suicide and what supports are out there.”

The writer, Patricia McCann, is delighted that her play is returning to Cork.

“I am passionate about this play. When I wrote it, I had an idea it was something special, but seeing the emotional and positive responses from audiences across communities has really blown me away.”

Chairperson of Shine A Light, Letitia Hill, says: “We are delighted to be part of the work which sees this important play back in Cork and acted by a Cork cast. We hope this play will continue to open up conversations about mental health, suicide and bereavement through suicide, across the community.

“We would encourage people to come along and support the play or encourage somebody else to do the same.”

Bring Me Back Alive is at the Cork Arts Theatre from March 1-3. Tickets: €10, €5 concessions for schools and OAPs.

SUPPORT SERVICES

Help and support is available and the Health Service Executive encourage people to make contact with the following 24/7 supports:

Pieta House: 1800 247 247; The Samaritans

116 123 or text ‘help’ to 087 2609090;

Childline 1800 666 666, or text ‘talk’ to 50101.

The HSE would also like to remind readers that anyone in crisis can get support through their GP or the South Doc service which is available on 1850 335 999 or southdoc.ie

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