How do you create a catalyst for change where mental health issues and male suicide rates are concerned? Body Politic, an Oxford-based company keen to ‘create thought-provoking and poignant hip-hop theatre work addressing the needs and issues of young people’, has created something special with Father Figurine, a show which explores the issues surrounding the statistics.
The arts have always shown that language and communication can be more than just words on a page. Theatre in particular is an inclusive art form where the audience is a part of the experience. Using theatre to explore and highlight such an important issue as the epidemic of male suicides is a bold and risky move. After all, there has to be an entertainment value to theatre otherwise it simply doesn’t work, and it would be easy to tip over into clichés and well meaning but ultimately unrealistic interpretations of poor mental health.
In Father Figurine the relationship between two male family members and the cultural and societal pressures they face is explored in a short, intense production which is both harrowing and poignant. It crosses genres – those of dance, stand-up poetry and dialogue-based theatre. This mixed bag of theatrical devices is mostly successful, but the absolute star of the production is dance. The sheer strength and physicality of the extended hip-hop choreography is something to behold. The dance expresses precisely the way that the relationship between father and son can be simultaneously familiar and distant. The need for both characters to talk and the lack of any deep dialogue is perfectly explored in the medium of dance which allows for communication through movement, and powerfully so.
The music and manipulation of recorded interview snippets help to drive the production but, really, spoken words are unnecessary. While the poetry and dialogue help to ground the piece, at times I felt they were distracting. The dance is so well developed – it communicates the pressure of unspoken emotion beautifully, expressing the interactions between a stoic father whose world becomes smaller and smaller and a young man desperate to talk about a family tragedy, and it does so with finesse and eloquence.
From the beginning, I was absorbed by the closely choreographed interaction, the close bonds of blood, and the separation of the two male worlds. I hope to see more from this company.
Images by Josh Tomalin