Sunday, 17 March 2013

Hang in There at Culturlann - Review

After taking her life, Colleen finds herself in the company of Póla, a seasoned occupant of "the other side" whose questions force her to take a closer look at her past life in a bid to find peace in her new surroundings. When one door closes... when will the other one open? Hang in there is a short play exploring one possibility of what could be waiting for us after life.

Bronagh Diamond's short play 'Hang in There' was produced during Féile an Earraigh at the Cultúrlann on the Falls Road and features Danielle Magennis as Colleen and Cathy Brennan-Bradley as Póla.  The play opens in darkness with a simple set consisting of just a bed, a chair, a door and a cardboard box.  Oh and a rope hanging ominously from the lighting grid. 

Colleen has has taken her own life and finds herself in an unknown place and is frightened.  An odd woman with a clipboard wants to ask her questions about her family, about her life, about why she hanged herself.  Colleen is an educated girl, with a job and a loving family, but her life has not gone the way she expected. It seems that all the opportunities she was promised as a child, such as seeing the world and having an amazing career were not true.  I like that Bronagh made this character intelligent, educated and not an obvious candidate for suicide.  It serves to dispel the myth that those who are suicidal must be mentally ill, have terrible lives or no prospects.  Anyone can feel hopeless and despairing, and there are many reasons why someone may feel suicidal. Póla acts as a counsellor and a guide.  She advises Colleen that she can't move on through the door until she looks back at her life and accepts peace.  This character draws information out of Colleen and adds both much needed humour and context to proceedings.  

This play does not preach to those considering suicide, it doesn't say you will go to hell if you take your life but it does try to highlight the pain of the people left behind.  Where Colleen can move on through the door, the people left behind will never move on. While Colleen's problems have ended, they've just been passed on to her family. A play dealing with such emotional issues was never going to be an easy watch, but humour was used to good effect and helped to lift the story out of complete despair.               

I would like to see the writer develop the story a little further, perhaps by giving the audience more insight into Colleen's life.  The strongest points in the story are when we see the mother's pain and are told about the effect on her little brother when he finds her body.  A particularly nice moment when Colleen and Póla are looking through photos accompanied by music could be enhanced by using projection to show the audience what they are looking at.  This would help the audience to make more of a connection with the character.    

Credit must be given for producing such a brave play especially in the heart of West Belfast where suicide rates are so high.  Suicide rates in NI have doubled in the past 15 years, with a sharp rise in North and West Belfast. There are not many people who have not been touched by suicide, and mental health is still a taboo issue. Perhaps with a little bit of funding to tour around communities, this play would help to raise awareness and help to force the subject of suicide into the open.

If you are in urgent need of help please call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000 or the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90.


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