Opinion

Edinburgh Fringe highlighted stories behind suicide statistics

Lesley Warner went to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival where she saw a number of shows, including 5 out of 10 men.

Lesley Warner went to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival where she saw a number of shows, including 5 out of 10 men

It is a stark fact men kill themselves at an alarming rate. In England and Wales, one man dies as a result of suicide every two hours, and according to the English Department of Health, 78% of all suicides are men.

The cast of 5 out of 10 men

5 out of 10 men is a short play inspired by the belief that almost half the men who die aged under 45 kill themselves. Deep Diving Ensemble and Fragen Theatre Company's production of 5 out of 10 Men brings the statistics vividly to life, using dance as well as sharp dialogue to explore Michael's suicidal thoughts and the difficulties he faces in dealing with them.

His descent into despair begins after his brother’s suicide and the accidental death of his young daughter, for which he feels responsible.

Playing on a bare stage with the audience seated all round, the ensemble cast depict Michael’s troubled early life, his struggle to cope with his aggression, his difficulty in saying how he feels, and asking for help. We see Michael’s initially happy childhood derailed by his father’s profligacy, Michael's shockingly violent attitude towards women, and his reliance on alcohol to get him through difficult times.

We are shown how people are generally reluctant to comfort a crying man, and the façade men maintain to avoid showing their vulnerability. Eventually, Michael’s sense of powerlessness and hopelessness leads him to fall apart; ‘rotting inside so no one will notice’.

The play ends with the audience invited on to the stage to form a trust circle; we catch Michael as he falls towards us, giving him the support he so badly needs. This is a powerful piece that examines what it is to be a man, and how society constrains men's expression of their feelings with detrimental, often fatal, results. The show was created by Duncan Alldridge, informed by his own experience of depression, and written and directed by Roland Reynolds.

Personal experiences brought to life

Happy Yet? also deals with suicide. Written by Katie Berglöf, a student at Edinburgh University, the play draws on her personal experience to portray a couple who are supporting the husband’s brother Torsten who seems to have bipolar disorder. He lives with them and their daughter, and dominates their lives.

Torsten's niece Nina, played by Minnie Murphy, is the constant observer in the piece, very fond of her uncle and hurt by his actions. She is confused by his depression and doesn’t understand why he can’t be happy.

In between launching fanciful schemes to make money, Torsten, played by William Irven, convinces a string of young women that he is a successful professor like his brother Henrik, while also impersonating Henrik to an estate agent in an attempt to sell the house.

In his lowest moments, Torsten sees himself as a lab-rat, not destined to survive, who has been a grave disappointment to his ambitious parents, and previous suicide attempts are hinted at. The intervention of a psychologist has no impact, and matters come to a head when Torsten injures a woman while driving his brother’s car. This is the final straw for the family who now insist he moves into his own home, and it is there that Torsten takes his own life.

The young cast successfully convey the complicated dynamics of this dysfunctional family.

The play suggests there are big differences in attitudes towards mental health problems and treatment options in the UK, the US and Sweden, but doesn’t explore the issue beyond mentioning that some medications are not yet available in Sweden.

I would have been interested to see this aspect developed further, since the play is so firmly rooted in its national context.

About the author

Lesley Warner

Lesley Warner is freelance writer 

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