Elephant in the Room: staring down the stigma of black men’s mental health

A couple of years ago, the actor and choreographer Lanre Malaolu was creating a duet about mental health. “I was working with an amazing contortionist dancer,” he remembers. “But for various reasons she had to drop out … I didn’t have time to get anyone else.” He swears under his breath and smiles, before explaining how he sat in his living room and tried to come up with a quick solo performance. “I was like, ‘What’s one of the challenges that I’ve experienced with anxiety, depression? Getting out of bed.’”

The scene Malaolu made “was almost verging on clownish. I was using physical theatre and hip-hop movement to show this guy just wanting to get up.” The performance went down a storm. “People were really affected by it, and were like, ‘You need to tour this around.’ I was like, ‘It’s only 15 minutes!’ But that got me thinking.” Malaolu has expanded that single scene into a full-length show, Elephant in the Room, which now has a three-week run at Camden People’s theatre in London.

“Basically, it’s about a young man’s challenges with his mental health,” he says. “But also how he interacts with different characters that he’s grown up with, and how they influence his perception [of his mental wellbeing].” The piece mixes dance, theatre and spoken word, with Malaolu playing the mostly silent protagonist Michael and the other characters.

Conversations about mental health have become more visible, with the likes of Zayn Malik and Prince Harry openly discussing their struggles. There has been a rise, too, in theatrical work on the subject such as Milly Thomas’s Dust, a look at one young woman’s suicide, and I’m a Phoenix, Bitch, in which performance artist Bryony Kimmings looked at her trauma-related breakdown. Masculinity and the mental health of young men are considered in Barber Shop Chronicles, which is coming to the Roundhouse, London, after two National Theatre runs and an international tour, and Fledgling Theatre’s Neck or Nothing, which is at the Pleasance theatre, London, this month, in partnership with men’s suicide prevention charity Calm.

Full story: Guardian

Author: Philip Challinor
Posted on: 3rd April 2019