In a bid to break the silence surrounding mental illness in Cambridge, Ifeyinwa Frederick and Josh Simons have decided to put the topic at the heart of their new immersive theatre production, Grey Matters. For the first time, mental illness will take centre stage in a student production at the prestigious university and as opening night fast approaches, we had the honour of catching up with the play’s co-director Ifeyinwa – despite her hectic schedule – and find out more about why Grey Matters is not to be missed.
Siana (NFotW): So Ifey, tell us why you decided to embark on such a challenge and put this play on.
Ifey (Grey Matters): I didn’t know exactly how it would happen but I decided in Easter Term of last year that I wanted to put on a play that addressed the issue of mental illness. It stemmed from my frustration over the fact that a significant number of people I knew at Cambridge had suffered from or were experiencing a mental health problem and yet mental health, whether good or bad, is rarely given the attention it deserves in the university. It can be difficult enough to live with a mental illness but the situation is made worse by the stigma attached to it and I think the silence around the topic only adds to that stigma. I wanted to put on a play to break the silence.
Siana: The concept is very interesting – why the multi-room experience? What does it signify?
Ifey: After conducting all the interviews, we realised just how powerful the stories we had were, and we wanted to share as many of them as possible. By abandoning the traditional play format we have been able to tell more stories and communicate them in a number of different ways. By spreading the show over three rooms and using immersive theatre we are better able to convey the complexities and nuances of mental health than a standard play format allowed us to do.
[In a previous interview, co-director Josh Simons also explains how the show came to form its current shape: “From conducting engaging and moving interviews, Grey Matters has come a long way. We wanted to produce a piece of theatre that tried to convey all the nuances of mental health, without simply creating a play about mental health. This is why I suggested immersive theatre. It’s a form that allows the audience to be taken on a journey, with all the confusions and complexities that come with understanding mental health. We hope that whatever journey the audience is taken on, they will be entertained, engaged as well as challenged.”]
Siana: How did you find the experience of conducting interviews with sufferers of mental health issues? Do the interviews form the entire body of the play?
Ifey: It was definitely sobering at times but it was encouraging to see how many people were willing to talk about their illness. It definitely wasn’t bleak all the time. There was a lot of laughter in some interviews and people commented on some of the good experiences they’d had because of their illness. Something that people might find surprising is that most interviewees said that despite the challenges they’ve faced they wouldn’t change themselves. The whole production is inspired by the interviews but different elements of the show rely on them more heavily than others.
Siana: What do you want each audience member to take home from the experience?
Ifey: There will be a variety of experiences. Two people can have the same mental illness but both relate to it differently. Whilst some may think it is convenient to think of people with mental illnesses as a homogeneous group, more often than not it is damaging to do so.
Set in an old, abandoned theatre over three rooms in King’s College, this immersive theatre project tackles mental illness in an unusual fashion. Based on in-depth interviews of individuals about their experiences, a variety of media has been used to interweave these accounts into each part of the audience’s journey.
Thought-provoking and entertaining, Grey Matters is an innovative piece of theatre, which is not to be missed. Opening night is tomorrow and the production will run from the 22nd to the 24th of February 2014. The experience begins in Chetywnd Room, King’s College and showings are at 19.00, 19.50, and 20.35 EVERY NIGHT.
Get your tickets here at ADC Ticketing.
Concept: Josh Simons, Ifeyinwa Frederick
Writers: Poppy Damon, Alex O’ Bryan Tear, Josh Simons
Directors: Josh Simons, Alex O’ Bryan Tear, Ifeyinwa Frederick
Producers: Rikki Wolkind, Nikita Simpson, Ollie Imray, Cate Cameron
Design: Madeline Dunnigan, Tyro Heath, Bronya Meredith
Character inspiration: Ellen Robertson, Hellie Craney