Out Of Character and York Theatre Royal present Henry IV, The Studio, York Theatre Royal, May 15 to 17 (From York Press)
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Out Of Character and York Theatre Royal present Henry IV, The Studio, York Theatre Royal, May 15 to 17
OUT OF Character, a York theatre company comprising people who have mental health problems, will perform in the York Theatre Royal Studio from Tuesday to Friday, thanks to securing funding from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation for the first time.
The foundation’s £2,500 has been matched by Converge, a project based at York St John University that aims to reduce reliance on the health services and raise aspirations for education and employment.
Eleven people from York will take part in a production of Henry IV, Luigi Pirandello’s study of mental illness and responses to it, directed by Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster and Out Of Character’s artistic director, Gemma Alldred.
“Out Of Character, which was formed in 2008, is the result of a collaboration with York St John University staff and students and local mental health service providers, and this new funding will give us a great opportunity to raise issues related to mental health on a national stage,” says Gemma.
“These are issues that are very important to the company and the wider community.”
Tom Nightingale, who has been involved with the company since 2008, concurs. “Joining Out Of Character has done two things for me: it has given me something to focus on and it has got me out of the loop of not taking my meds and getting ill all over again,” says Tom, who is now studying theatre at York St John.
Out Of Character grew out of a theatre course Gemma ran with Nick Rowe, a lecturer at York St John.
“We gathered the group through the NHS, which we have great contacts with,” she says. “We told them the project was happening and through them we recruited 12 to 14 people, of whom eight stuck with us, so we were obviously doing something right.
“The course still runs at York St John every Thursday in term time in the evening. Out Of Character meets that night and we also run a group for new people coming on board, who work with students, like I was when we started while I was doing the performance theatre course there.”
Out Of Character’s opportunity to work in tandem with York Theatre Royal puts their work in the spotlight, and the company members are “really specific” about the subject matter they want to address in their performances.
“We do a mix of plays about mental health and other plays that they want to do, and because we’re open about being a mental health theatre group, mental health issues can be read into all the plays,” says Gemma.
“We have tended to do devised work, written by the company members, writing as we go along, and that’s worked very well for the company because we can work flexibly if anyone drops out.”
In 2010, Out Of Character staged Tales From Kafka over three sold-out nights in the Theatre Royal Studio. Now they present Pirandello’s Henry IV or, rather, the word “present” is crossed out on the poster and replaced by “dissect”: an indication that the company will bring its own perspective to the darkly humorous 20th century story of a man losing his mind after he is knocked off his horse during a masquerade.
Played by Christian Foster, above, he remains locked in a castle for the next 20 years, believing he is the medieval emperor Henry IV, his condition not helped by a troupe of actors colluding in this delusion daily.
The play asks who is sane and who is mad and what is madness anyway? Out Of Character ask those questions too as they explore the knife edge between illusion and reality.
The cast members are delighted to be asking those questions in the Theatre Royal Studio. “Working at the Theatre Royal really validates what we do and makes it seem worthwhile and that’s very important in matters of mental health. It says, ‘We value what you do’,” says Gemma.
• Out Of Character and York Theatre Royal present Henry IV, The Studio, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 7.45pm;Wednesday at 2.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk