Monday, 10 July 2017

Happy Dramaturgy: Jack Rooke @ Edfringe 2017


A brotherly love letter to a friend that went too soon.

Cowgate, Belly Button

Thu 3 – Sun 27 August (not 14) 17:20 (18:20). 60 mins.
Happy Hour explores the lives of young men Jack’s known who have struggled with mental illness whilst figuring out their identity. In particular Jack’s close university friend Olly, who two years ago took his own life after battling depression. Bored of talking about talking - Jack believes there’s currently stagnation in the national mental health conversation - Happy Hour will take audiences on a comedic journey using music, films and research to explore realistic solutions to mental health in this country.

What was the inspiration for Happy Hour?

Honestly and don't judge me, I just got so fed up of hearing people talk about mental health in a way that I felt was a bit empty and driven by talking about talking and not actually solving the issue at hand. This show is a very honest, comedic, theatrical and political exploration of the mental health crisis affecting vulnerable people, but at the same time its a really simple show. 

It's just me reading a brotherly love letter I've written to some male friends of mine, one in particular who forms the crux of the show. He's someone I discussed a lot recently in my BBC Three series Happy Man, and this show is definitely sort of connected to that series. This is almost everything that series wouldn't allow me to say due to the processes of TV. Happy Hour is allowing me to take that conversation on, one step further.  

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?

I'm unsure about that one. I guess it is but only in few cases. Only some shows get it right. I think Backstage In Biscuitland did, I think Monkey See Monkey Do did, I think Tar Baby did - but on the whole performance isn't really the radical, idea-shifting platform that I believe a lot of theatre-makers believe it is. 

We live in the world of the campaigner right now. Every brand, every idol, every organisation seemingly feels like they're launching a campaign. And they feel the same - they involve the purchase of one thing, whether that be a product or a ticket, and in exchange customers feel like they're doing something good. I've just seen one this morning for bees wax lip balm, where if you buy a really expensive lip balm then the company will plant like a zillion flowers. 

I can't help but feel that working class, cynical me is just rolling my eyes a lot at the moment at this culture and it's very apparent in theatre. Maybe I'm being a dickhead - who knows, I just feel like actually the best space for a public discussion of ideas that lead to  change, is where a wide section of society are able to engage, voice their views and their experiences. 

Sadly I think performance, especially in Edinburgh, is still too classist, too elitist and the microphone is still in the hands of the most privileged kids in Britain being pumped out the most privileged institutions in the land. 

If you come to Happy Hour, I might get on my preachy high-horse at one point, but this show isn't a campaign. There's no hashtag for this production. It's just a really honest funny story that I think says everything that isn't being said about the mental health issue in Britain. 

If that prompts public discussion then brilliant, but also I'm representing characters in this show who are the ones suffering a severe limitation on ambition, wealth and happiness. I hope a fringe audience can see that and think about what could genuinely help that group, outside of my self-indulgent, autobiographical show. 

How did you become interested in making performance?

Accidentally! I ran out of money to make a documentary called Good Grief and then the Arts Council got involved and said "turn it into a live show and use the films you already have and we can help fund you" and voila! Good Grief the show came about and I somehow ended up a performer. 

But I studied Journalism and documentary-making is my main passion because I think I like giving as much as possible, actual real-life characters their own voice. That's why my Nan played such a prominent part in Good Grief, because I felt like I didn't want to be her voice. She is the best person to do that herself. 

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

I'm not a sit down at my laptop writer. I'm more of a "speak into a microphone and transcribe what I said" kind of writer. I very rarely edit the first thing I say because the first thing you say is often the most honest. With Happy Hour though, it's a proper theatre commission from Soho Theatre, with a proper director and a proper team behind it whereas Good Grief was just me and some mates. 

So the approach this time round has been slightly more formal, but not too much so. They have just let me go away and get on with it.  I'm a scatty useless prick most of the time so it's a bit cut and paste, but I'm fine with that. I'm not really about slickness, it doesn't excite me that much. 

I'm more about making an honest, subversive, powerful narrative that is rooted in empathy and helping people and making people happy and laugh. 

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

Yeah, this is definitely a follow-up to Good Grief. It sort of picks up where Good Grief ended. It's more grown-up, more reflective. Lets say I learnt a lot from my 2015 Gareth Vile review in The List haha and I've genuinely tried to take on board what you in particular said. 

And even though I really disagreed with one line in your review, there were 3 or 4 other lines I learnt a lot from and that's where I really believe in the critic-performer relationship. 

So I hope you like it Gareth or else I'll ban you from ever coming back to Watford 😉  

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope they experience the absolute bloody sheer love I have for the friend in particular I have written this show to. It's a love unlike romance or obsession, it's just really one big thank you letter to the most impactful, wonderful man I've ever met. And if audiences can see and feel that love, despite the anger that's also in the show, then I think I've done my job properly. 

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