Michael Hajiantonis talks about his original play Going Slightly Mad, inspired by his experience in an NHS psychiatric ward.
“Since the play is so heavily based on [my experiences], there wasn’t too much by way of plot to figure out. I wanted to work out a structure first, but then I couldn’t figure out an ending I liked for a long time. I finally worked out an ending which I thought was good and we proposed it [at Bedlam Theatre] without having written any dialogue. The thing is, when I have an idea for something I’m writing, whenever I think of a piece of dialogue, or a little exchange, I’ll put it down in the notes section of my phone, which means that when I do sit down to write it most of the ideas are already there, I just need to weave it together. I’m always coming up with phrases and even stuff I’ve nicked – there’s a line in the play that I just heard my uncle say! So, I sat down and hashed it out over summer. The style of the play is all my favourite theatre conventions rolled into one. It’s a bit mad in the plot and structure but for me, that’s very exciting.
The central character is based on me. Three of the others are more heavily or more loosely based on people I met on the ward and one character is an amalgam of other patients. There were so many people that I couldn’t get to know everyone, so I’ve taken lots of exchanges and put them into one more original creation. I really wanted to make sure that I stayed as true to life as possible and not to exaggerate anything that happens on wards. I know when people see that something is ‘inspired by’ real-life events they imagine it’s hyperbolised. One bit of the play is pure fiction but we draw attention to that. But in terms of how personal it is, pretty much everything is what happened and how it happened. I’ve tried to stay as true to my story as possible, but it isn’t verbatim.
Theatre surrounding mental health is at the forefront at the moment. One name that comes to mind is Sarah Kane. I’ve read some of her work and – I don’t know if this is controversial to say – I’ve found I can’t relate to it. I’ve found it to be hopeless and humourless and bleak, which is probably a reflection of her state of mind at the time, but mental illness in its extreme form is inherently absurd. It’s completely irrational and it is funny. I think not addressing that is actually increasing the stigma, not taking it away. You’re making it out to be more than an illness, you’re making it out to be this impossible, scary thing which no one can get past and although that might be the case for some people I don’t think that’s a helpful message and it certainly isn’t the case for me. Making it a scary topic also increases the gap between those who have experienced it and those who haven’t. Psychosis and mania, in particular, are so often hyperbolised in film and mystified. I want to show people what it’s actually like.”
Going Slightly Mad will run 17th-18th October, 7.30pm at Bedlam Theatre.
Image: Huw Jones