Edinburgh Fringe review

Lesley Warner reviews plays with mental health themes at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

Lesley Warner reviews plays with mental health themes at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe

Tom Page as Tommy Atkins in Shell Shock

Shell Shock

In Shell Shock, based on the true account of a former soldier, Tom Page gives a searing portrayal of a man living through post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following active military service. The character, Tommy Atkins, is named after the archetypal soldier in the British Army. He tells us about his hopes and dreams as he returns from Iraq, the jobs he wants to get in the police or fire service, and the plans with his girlfriend. But after three years of combat he finds his hometown a more unsettling place than he remembers.

Irritable and frustrated, Tom deals poorly with the rejection of his job applications, and his nightmares and inability to control his temper and his drinking contribute to the disintegration of his relationship. The sound effects that intersperse the piece seem frighteningly real and are perceived at a visceral as well as an auditory level.

Pushed almost to the point of suicide, and faced with delays in accessing NHS services, Tom eventually gets help from voluntary organisations, primarily Combat Stress, and writing about his experiences becomes part of the healing process.

Shell Shock: The Diary of Tommy Atkins by Neil Watkin, writing as Neil Blower, is published by FireStep Press and as an eBook. It was adapted by Tim Marriott who also produced and directed the play.

NHS services for people with PTSD

Fine, thanks

Fine, thanks is what people often say when asked how they are, even when they are actually far from fine. A group of students from University College School in London called LUND, dig deep to show what young people with mental health problems are thinking. Using verbatim speech from students, teachers, health workers and therapists, they explore issues of depression, anxiety, addiction and self-harm, and suggest strategies which could be adopted by schools to promote the mental health of their pupils.

Directed by Connor Abbott, members of the cast researched the subject carefully, interviewing young people about mental health issues, and had input from the charity SANE and the Self Esteem Team, a group which goes into schools to help young people become more confident about themselves and improve their mental resilience.


By the 203 Theatre, Brothers deals with mental health issues faced by a slightly older group, final year university students.

The ensemble cast of five young men each have problems. Fabian has lost his father in an accident and describes himself as ‘an Atlas holding up a sky of stress’. Kay is a frightened, picked-upon geek who asks someone to go out with him by speaking in Klingon, while Gav’s apparent success with women and bullying of Kay seem to mask a deeper insecurity. Tommy is discovering his sexual identity following a traumatic relationship breakup, while Jack says little, experiences vague somatic symptoms, and is eventually revealed to have been suffering the most.

The ultimate message is that it is better to talk about our feelings than to ‘man up’ and repress them.

Written and directed by Piers Cottee-Jones, the piece was developed with help from charities Mind and Campaign Against Living Miserably (Calm).


By Kane Power, an account of growing up with his mother who has bipolar disorder, won the first Mental Health Fringe Award, sponsored by the Mental Health Foundation.


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