Conversations surrounding mental health are, quite rightly so receiving greater prominence within the wider society; however, there’s still a long way to go in terms of perceptions held, particularly from a generational stand point and how we continue to tackle this very complex humanistic topic, especially in terms of services provided. Amy Guyler’s ‘Digging Deep’ addresses the upsetting truth of the rise of suicide in young men, in particular within working class backgrounds. A timely show that will no doubt resonate with audiences, director Alistair Wilkinson takes on the production at this year’s Vault Festival. Ahead of the show, Alistair speaks to us about addressing the show’s important themes, what he’s learned from directing the show and teaming up with the mental health charity CALM who will be offering support after each showing.
Hi Alistair! You’re currently directing ‘Digging Deep’ which will take part in this year’s VAULT Festival from the 20-24 Feb. How are you feeling ahead of the show?
I feel great! We did our first full run yesterday and it runs to time (phew), but not only that it also looks really good (in my opinion anyway). I’m super proud of the work that the whole team have done; it really has been a collaborative effort where everybody’s talents can shine. I think the audiences will really like it.
Written by Amy Guyler, ‘Digging Deep’ examines the rise of suicide in young men – and in particular, in young men from a working class background. Why in particular did you want to direct this piece?
Without going too much into it, the play means so much to me on a personal level. Being from an incredibly working class background I was surrounded by men who didn’t talk about their true feelings. I grew up in lad-dominated circles and was constantly checking myself for how masculine I was being. Amy’s play reflects my upbringing and that of so many others. It speaks, with such honesty and bravery, about the struggles working class people face on a day-to-day basis. When I first read the play I knew I had to direct it – it was too important for me to let go of.
How have you approached directing the show?
We’ve had a lot of discussion on what it is to be a man; what this word means and its context in our contemporary society. We’ve talked a lot about trust, grief, lad culture, Ayai Napa and our own experience growing up in these communities.
Following on from this, we started getting it on its feet. Amy’s written lots of snappy scenes with many fun moments within it, so it’s been a great challenge to bring them all to life. How do you stage a sky dive? Well, you’ll have to come and watch the show to find out.
What can audiences expect from the show?
It’s a lot of fun. Contained within the grief and heartache is so much life and joy. It’s basically a story of brotherhood and banter, and a non-stop rollercoaster of all the emotions a human can feel. I cried after our first run, and after the second. There are moments in the play that feel like a punch to the gut, and there are other occasions where you can’t stop laughing.
As well as this we’re really proud to be partnering with the charity CALM, who will be providing volunteers at every show, ready to talk to people should they need support and/or further signposting.
What would you like audiences to take away from the show?
I want them to have laughed with the boys, and to see themselves and their mates reflected within the narrative. It’s really important to me that we start speaking about mental health, and break down the barriers that prevent young men from disclosing how they’re truly feeling. If one person leaves and becomes more open about their inner emotions, or realises that they’re friend may be suffering, then the play has done it’s job. I really believe that this story has the power to save lives.
Are there any plans to perform this beyond VAULT Festival?
We have plans to take it to the regions on a tour, hopefully working with local theatres and schools/community groups to continue the conversation about working class mental health. I’m currently in the process of creating different workshop packages, so that we can take them into buildings, in order to facilitate discussion and hopefully create change.
Have you taken anything away/learned anything new from directing the piece?
How great actors are. It’s been the biggest pleasure to work alongside such gifted and driven artists. Kyle Rowe, Matthew Woodhead, Jonny Green and Josh Sinclair-Evans are some of the most brilliant performers I know. Each day I am in awe of their work ethic, their ability to question with artistic clarity and their willingness to do a good job. My assistant Hannah Burke is nothing short of exceptional and I owe a lot to her too.
On a non-artistic side, I think I’ve learnt – or am beginning to learn at least – what it means to become a better human, and I owe that discovery to my cast too.
What advice would you give to aspiring directors?
Own your ambition – nobody will do that for you. You’ve got to find projects that you love, otherwise why bother? It’s most likely going to be a tough journey and you can’t help that. But those challenges along the way are what shape you, turning you into a better creative. Trust in the seeds you plant, they will eventually grow into great things. And don’t let anyone take you for a mug. You’re an artists and you deserve to be in this space.
Questions by Lucy Basaba.
Digging Deep will show from Wednesday 20th until Sunday 24th February 2019 at this year’s Vault Festival. To find out more about the production, visit here…