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Friday, 26 February 2010

Cracking Up

Sometimes researching a new film project can be fun. So a trip to The Hob pub in Forest Hill to see John Ryan, a London/Irish comedian, do a show seemed an inviting prospect. Then it turned out the show was all about mental health. Depression. Suicide. Light-hearted stuff really.

A mix of comedy, sketches and poetry founded on research and contributions from people who have experienced mental health difficulties, Cracking Up aims to 'lift the lid on mental health', encourage people to be more 'open to talking about and seeking help if they experience symptoms' and 'help reduce stigma by normalising mental health problems'.

Actually, to the credit of John, fellow performers and the show's producer Maya Twardzicki, a psychologist working with mental health services in Surrey, Cracking Up turned out to be very funny. Aimed predominantly at men, who find it harder to talk about mental health and to seek help for mental health problems, Twardzicki decided that comedy was going to be the perfect way of engaging audiences with issues, and recruited Ryan, who's already done one successful show on men's health called Hurt Till It Laughs.

In preparation for Cracking Up, discussion sessions were run with different demographic groups of men around Surrey to inform the development of the comedy and sketch scripts. Sixty men took part from around the county including firemen, construction students, long term unemployed and users of mental health services. So far the show has been shown to over 600 people across Surrey and London, and now has two dates for shows in April at the
Soho Theatre.

This imaginative approach to raising awareness of mental health issues caught the eye of an organisation called the
Southside Partnership, who work with offenders. They asked whether IJP would be interested in helping them, Maya and John to deliver a similar kind of project involving offenders. That's how I ended up in Forest Hill, listening to comedian Gareth Berliner describe his suicide attempt in great detail. And laughing.

Do go to the show if you're interested. And we'll keep you posted on our project with the Southside Partnership.

Naomi Delap, Managing Director, Inside Job Productions

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