‘You name it, I’ve tried it,’ says Dave (Simon Finch). ‘But nothing works for me.’
People with mental health challenges often find that those challenges isolate them. In The Hope Song, the APA Ensemble has chosen to embrace people with mental health challenges and give a voice to the voiceless.
Janet Brown crafted this theatre piece from interviews she conducted in 2016 and 2017. Every word the actors speak were spoken by the seven people she interviewed.
‘Music is an important feature of The Hope Song,’ Brown says in the program notes. Brown asked each person to share a song that inspired and uplifted them. Then, in the show, musician Kieran Brown performs versions of those songs that are simultaneously faithful covers while exploring new directions.
‘My hope for The Hope Song,’ Brown continues, ‘is that it creates opportunities for open conversations, understanding and compassion – not only for those who suffer from mental health issues, but also for their carers, their family, and [their] friends.’
When the show debuted last October in Angelsea, it appeared Brown was right. Audience members stayed behind to chat with each other and with the cast and crew about their stories of hope. The same thing happened on opening night of their La Mama season. I’m sure those conversations will continue
Theatre veteran Iris Walshe-Howling, The Hope Song‘s co-director and co-designer, was part of the La Mama Company from the late 1960s. In 1981, she was a founding ensemble member of the Contemporary Performance Centre. Those dual threads of her history – her experience with La Mama and ensembles – made her the ideal choice to bring this show to the stage.
In a conversation after the show, playwright Brown described the way she took the raw interviews and composed them into the finished script. Inspired by jazz, she used musical notes to code the conversations and thus kept track of the rhythm of the piece. The result: A satisfying flow with the right kinds of surprises.
Since I first saw Philip Besancon perform, I’ve heard people rave about how well he acts. He certainly delivered in The Hope Song. His sensitive performance as Birdman gave insight into a man who struggles to match his inner beliefs to the outer world.
It’s people like Birdman that Brown wanted to inspire. ‘I called the project The Hope Song because where there is hope, we can continue our journey undefeated.’
The result is theatre at its best.
And as one of the interviewees says: ‘I’m a winner, and you can never hurt me again.’
Daniel G. Taylor lives in Elwood, Victoria, where he works as a mental health copywriter. He specialises in helping businesses attract visitors to their website, crafting compelling content to keep those visitors engaged, and converting those visitors into buyers.