FringeReview UK 2017
A brand new piece of theatre that discusses suicide with song and prose. How do people respond? What questions and emotions arise? It happens right in front of you on a small, intimate stage with a coffin as the centrepiece.
CATCH ME…the cracks are starting to spread…
Words and music written by Arnoud Breitbarth and Christian Czornyj, directed by Jill Patterson.
Every now and then, you discover theatre so vital to the way we view the human condition, that you need to see it again and again to make sense of your own life. Catch Me is that kind of experience. Its topic is suicide, a subject few of us discuss openly; an action all of us have considered at one point or another in our lives. Suicide rates increase every year, and the dangerous age for men is their late forties, for women after 50, the time when all of us expect to be settled into a comfortable pattern with a secure and predictable future. And yet, it is at that very stage, when we should have reached our zenith, that so many of us can no longer tolerate existence.
Catch Me opens with Sarah (Kathryn Pemberton) singing, “Catch me….how many things can you shoulder until you break…..” She is joined by the rest of the cast in a fugue that is as beautiful as it is jarring because everyone has reached that breaking point, when life has no more meaning because it is just too hard to get through the day. The lights come up and there is a coffin center stage, the cast is dressed in black and we meet the deceased’s fiancé, Sarah, sister, Christine, brother-in-law, Colin, co-worker, Marc and best friend, Harry. As the plot develops, we begin to understand, through song and dialogue, who this man who took his own life was to those closest to him. We feel the combination of anger, guilt and confusion that a suicide brings to those left behind.
“Most people are surprised to hear the subject for Catch Me…” say Breitbarth and Czornyj, the authors of this exquisite drama. “But musical theatre can be a great way to tell stories about real life experiences with all the ups and downs…..Talking about mental health issues is still a taboo for many …..People are always looking for rational answers, but sometimes there is no logical explanation.”
In Catch Me, we experience the undercurrent of emotions, the hurt, the sense of abandonment survivors feel and often do not dare admit. Instead, there are the usual platitudes that mean little and help not at all. ”Last week he was here and now he is not,” says Sarah, the abandoned bride. Christine (Jennifer Tilley), Dean’s sister, sings Selfish Prick, a song that berates her brother for leaving her to face life alone. “He could have waited until after the wedding,” she says. Marc (Matthew Munden) the man who worked beside him every day in their office sings “Why Didn’t I Stop Him?” because he saw the signs, but didn’t realize until too late what they meant.
As the characters reveal who they are and what Dean meant in their lives, we see what led up to his decision to leave the world. “The causes of suicide are complex,” say The Samaritans. “We need to raise awareness of the issues, reduce stigma, encourage people to seek help before they reach a crisis point.” But how often is the topic so frightening even to the person despairing of the life he cannot live without pain, ignores and denies the elephant in the room. And then it is too late.
We meet Dean (Reuben Beau Davies) in the second act and we begin to piece together what drove him to take his life. Davies creates a believable, intensely human character, smothered with obligations, puzzled by his lack of satisfaction in the very things that should bring him joy. “Little things” he sings. “It was the little things ….I knew what had changed….I knew what had decayed…” His best friend Harry (Connor Arnold) was having an affair with his sister Christine and her husband, Colin says, ”Women are amazing but wives are not,” Perhaps Dean did not want his impending marriage to Sarah to disintegrate in the same way his sister’s had? Or perhaps it was his obligation to get married that pushed him over the edge. He says, “You get married because that’s what you do.” How empty a reason to lock your life to another’s.
The song Free sung at the beginning of the second act and as a reprise at the end sums up the meaning of this dark and very real musical drama. Dean says “I am free from the dark and the stag party,” and later, when he talks about the ennui he felt when each moment became less meaningful than the one before: “The night was just another night; the day was just another day.”
Society may often feel like a lonely and disconnected place,” say The Samaritans. “We can choose to make a difference by making lives more livable for those who struggle to cope.” Yet all too often we are too caught up in our own struggles to reach out in time to another. That is the human tragedy and it occurs more and more every day.
“Theatre is an opportunity to engage society in sociopolitical discussion,” says director Jill Patterson. “Death is something that happens to everyone, but people are afraid to talk about it. (In Catch Me) we witness the reality of suicide… The second act invades our own assumptions…and gives us a very different perspective on death.”
The pace of this production is excellent, the acting real. The set is spare and the actors use the space well. The audience feels part of the action they see. We believe each character as they speak and sing and when the finale is sung, everyone in the audience is left with renewed understanding of the value of his own life. The only thing each of us has that is our very own is our being. We are free to make it whatever we can and we are the only ones who have the right to keep it or take it way. The tragedy is always that no suicide is an individual act. The injury to those who survive the deceased is often so debilitating that they too no longer value who they are or believe in what they can become. Catch Me forces us to think about so many unspoken things that are part of the human experience. “Catch Me makes you want to live and to live better,” says Director Jill Patterson.
This is a production that is a must see for all of us who care about the quality of our own lives and that of the people who surround us. It is a polished, professional production and it is mesmerizing. …..a beautiful achievement.