Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Breaking Taboos and Building Support; Tonight, a New Play Will Start a Conversation about Suicide. Samuel Fishwick Hears How It Was Written

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Breaking Taboos and Building Support; Tonight, a New Play Will Start a Conversation about Suicide. Samuel Fishwick Hears How It Was Written

Article excerpt

COMEDY and suicide may seem unlikely bedfellows. Yet at the Etcetera Theatre in Hammersmith tomorrow, Human Issue, a one-man play, sets out to break this as the first of several taboos.

"We live in a society that believes that we should be happy all the time, so how are we supposed to live up to that?" asks Mark Savage, the director and star of a show that follows Frank, a struggling stand-up comedian, as he wrestles with his own existence. "He's intelligent, he's funny, he's frustrated, he's frank, and he's just about to kill himself."

The play is raising money and awareness for Maytree, a charity which invites vulnerable people to stay for four nights at an unassuming terrace house in Finsbury Park, where former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell is a patron. Although one is fiction about the other's sad reality, the avowed intention of both is to break the silence around suicide. With World Suicide Prevention Day this Sunday, now is a time to talk.

"I understand why people don't want to talk about it," says Natalie Howarth, director of Maytree. "As human beings we naturally strive for existence. But that makes people who are feeling suicidal more isolated."

Maytree was founded 15 years ago by former Samaritans Paddy Bazley and Michael Knight. Its goal is to plug the gap between a helpline and the psychiatric ward. "There was no non-medical support for people who were suicidal. The point was to provide a safe, calm environment for people to feel comfortable enough to talk about their suicidal thoughts."

The project is based on a "befriending model", like the Samaritans helpline, providing an individual with a confidential safe environment. "They're able to openly talk about their feelings and thoughts of suicide," says Howarth. Volunteers and staff are on call day and night. "It's an unhelpful myth that if you mention the word suicide you're going to plant the seed further. …

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