In the first of our series from inside the Music rehearsal room, playwright Jane Bodie talks about writing Music and her family’s experience with mental illness.
I began writing Music some years ago, the idea arrived and began to knock loudly, when two ideas collided, with force – two things I felt strongly about – mental illness and our understanding and portrayal of it and obsession, in art. To say that the play is about mental illness is true, but it’s also very much a play about people’s perceptions of mental illness, how they talk and behave around it. Their understanding of a delicate complex subject, which can be part of someone’s recovery, or alternatively can become part of the illness itself.
In rehearsal: Kate Skinner & Corey McMahon
I’ve often been disturbed by how mental illness is portrayed in drama, either used to explain away unbelievable changes in character or acts of violence (when I suspect, making the character mad, was a way of not having to explain) or glossed over, generalized, simplified with little understanding, or illumination. The beautiful plays Blue/Orange and Some Voices by Joe Penhall, for me, have come the closest to offering up a portrayal of mental illness with the care, skill and truth it deserves. In Music, I wanted to explore how actors and a young playwright may perceive a mentally ill character, and abuse him, unwittingly, for their own gain. How a misunderstanding of the complexity of the situation he lives in, could lead to something tragic. As the sister of someone who has suffered mental illness for thirty years, I also felt a passionate need to convey the subject with respect, authenticity, and honour.
My brother was in a band as a teenager. As a ten year old I would sit outside his band practices for hours, learning the songs. I’d then borrow all his tapes and records and probably scratched them. I’d like to think my music taste was reared and nurtured by my brother. And I’m proud of my music taste, as I’ve often been proud of my brother, in the face of his illness.
My conversations with Corey McMahon, the director, about Music and the subjects it explored, led to a passionate debate about the delicacy of the story and the need for it to be approached with an equal measure of wonder, sensitivity and truth. From our initial discussions, I knew he had the right level of integrity and intelligence to do the play the justice I wanted for it. We also unabashedly spent joyful, nostalgic hours listening to the play’s carefully selected soundtrack of songs, both agreeing that that was a time when music really mattered.
In rehearsal: Anthony Gee, Kate Skinner & Tom Stokes
My brother was my hero for most of my childhood. As an unfeasibly good looking, cool teenager, he began to suffer from a mental illness. Whilst it’s as important to me not to expose and exploit his illness on this blog, as it was in the writing of Music, I will say that he has suffered as a result of his illness for many years and still does and, often as his family, we suffered with him. My brother also suffered his illness with an immense courage, sometimes rage, but always dignity. He has been within the mental health system in the UK and now lives a relatively independent life. Whilst he has never been accurately diagnosed, he is alive and mostly well and making music in a band again, something we all dreamed of. Watching the second day of rehearsals on Tuesday I was struck by how confronting, moving and complex the story is, and grateful for the gentle investigation unfolding on the rehearsal floor to get it right. Like This Years Ashes, I’d like to think Music will make you laugh, painfully so, but hopefully it will also move you to think.
I’d like to think my brother would like the play too. More than that, I want him to be proud of what it says, about a subject he knows more about than most of us, and that perhaps it will enable us to understand it more deeply and with more compassion. I’m pretty sure he’d like the jokes. But more importantly, I know he’d bloody love the soundtrack.
Stories Like These and Griffin Independent’s production of Music plays from 2-26 April. For more info and to book tickets, click here.