As a blogger I receive a fair few press releases in my inbox, but when I saw the words ‘musical’ and ‘mental health’ in the same sentence it definitely caught my attention. Perfectly Ordinary is a brand new musical coming to the Guildford Fringe this year with a focus on mental health and how it affects all of us in different ways. I spoke to the show’s producer, director and lyricist, Matthew Rankcom about the show as well as mental health in the theatre, important research and our favourite feel-good musicals (of course).
Addiction and mental illness are growing problems in our ever-changing world. Perfectly Ordinary, a brand new British Musical, examines these issues and asks what all of it really means. In a Psychiatric Ward somewhere in the UK, we meet a range of unique, sometimes tragic, sometimes hilarious characters all striving to be ‘normal’. Based on real life events and inspired by real people, this show is a touching exploration of the human condition.
So tell us a bit about the show and how it came about?
It’s set in a psychiatric ward, where patients are in there for a range of different reasons, mainly to rehabilitate. It doesn’t have a main narrative throughout – it picks up on elements of people’s lives, the ways that different illnesses can affect them, how they cope with it and how things on the outside influence them.
It was inspired by the fact that mental health is still such a taboo and some people still get quite uncomfortable when you mention it. But we had never really discussed writing a musical, I wrote some lyrics and Joe put music to it and it sounded good so we thought let’s make a musical about it!
We hope the show has something that everyone can relate to because we’ve all come across it in some point of our lives which is why its so bizarre that we don’t talk about it more.
What influenced you when writing the show?
We wanted to give as wide a representation as possible which means we’ve been workshopping it for a year and a half now. It was really helpful getting feedback because every time we heard about someone’s experience we tried to get it in there somehow so there’s more representation.
I mean in the first draft, the nurse character, Pinky, was very much just there because we needed a nurse. But a woman came to a workshop and she retired from mental health nursing because it was getting too much for her, so we developed this character: she struggles with the fact that she has to leave her children at home to look after these people but at the same time what would they do without her?
It sounds like you’ve done a lot of research…
It was very important to us to get it right. I’ve read a lot of books and watched documentaries. I sent one BBC documentary series round to the entire cast because it touched on a lot of different elements of mental health. Things like that can really help get you into the mindset and it makes me feel more capable of writing about it.
We adapted the script after each workshop after talking to audiences. Our voice coach is really good at fact-checking things for us and cutting bits that don’t ring true. We need to make sure that things will translate to a large group of people of different ages and genders, not just me.
So do you think theatre is a good platform to discuss mental health?
You know I think it’s a great platform to talk about anything, as long as it’s accessible. It’s important to have a variety too, and the balance where sometimes you can go and have a good night out and then you can also see something that we can reflect on and produce conversation from it.
I think Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime is a great example with the way the entire company stages and portrays autism. I think it’s important we tackle these issues in theatre because it’s a great way to open a window into someone’s mind. More theatre should take the risk and talk about it.
Do you think theatres can do more to support audience members with mental health?
The relaxed performances they do are amazing. It’s just important we have these discussions and not judge people, because at the end of the day we need to make everyone feel comfortable, comfortable enough to call up front of house and say look, I’m watching the show tonight but I’m struggling with my anxiety. Then it’s something that’s not a barrier. This is why talking about it in the theatre is so important – we need to normalise it.
How did you get into writing and directing?
Any future plans for Perfectly Ordinary beyond the Guildford Fringe?
I have always been the ‘musical theatre kid’. My first show was a touring production of Annie. I cried went it ended because I didn’t understand why we couldn’t rewind it and watch it again! I’d put on plays in the playground and in my garage too. I’m training in musical theatre at the moment but have always had an interest in writing and directing. Guildford School of Acting have always been really supportive and encourage us to explore other opportunities. I think it’s so important to have platforms to support people to do that. I mean, I think we only got to this point with Perfectly Ordinary because no-one said no!
We’re performing at the Surrey Showcase in August. By next summer we’d love to have a run in London or take it to the Edinburgh Fringe. We’re looking at any opportunities that come to us!
And finally, if you’ve had a rubbish day and could see a feel-good show to pick you up, which show would it be?
My Fair Lady on Broadway was phenomenal, but on the West End right now I think I’d say Kinky Boots. I’ve accidentally seen it five times!
The show runs at GLive’s Bellerby Studio Theatre on 24 & 25th July 2018 at 7:30pm as part of the Guildford Fringe Festival. Tickets are available from G Live online.
Follow the show on Twitter @OrdinaryMusical.