I could not have been any more than ten years of age, but then again maybe I was twelve. I remember sitting in the back seat of our red Toyota Corolla when my mother told me somebody close to us was experiencing a mental health crisis. We were on the motorway, I think, not sure where we were going, I was scared, the detail was shocking and did not make sense to me. The young black man I had known was no longer present.
Father Figurine is a piece of dance theatre presented by Body Politic, under the artistic direction of Emma-Jane Morbey. The piece utilises spoken word, strong musicality and the hip-hop dance aesthetic to create a multi-faceted piece that draws you into the difficult subject of mental health. Performed by Tyrone Isaac-Stuart (who created the music) and Isaac Ouro-Gnao (who wrote the piece), the duet tells the story of a traumatic event that leaves behind a father and son to pick up the pieces.
The storyline gives you an intimate picture of how trauma can affect a family. I found one of the most tender scenes to be at the very beginning where we see the father and son playing together. Rolling around, imitating each other and having fun – expressions of love. It is so rare to see such a connection performed by two men of African/Caribbean heritage, that there was a profundity to it.
There is an over-representation of young African and Caribbean men in mental health services in the UK, and whilst during the post-show talk it was mentioned that they did not want to focus on the fact that both performers are of African/Caribbean heritage, for me, it was the very premise of which I found this piece to be so poignant and refreshing.
It is powerful to have untold stories represented on stage, and whilst mental health struggles is one that we can all relate to in one way or another. The significance in being able to journey with these melanin-filled men as they battled through cultural, historical and social stigma to seek the help they needed is certainly not something to gloss over. The excellent characterisation of the father and son allows the audience to become invested in their story. The social and cultural references gave the characters depth and bought them to life, and so the piece was layered, allowing the audience to access the work from multiple points. As the audience, we watched how these stigmas debilitated the characters into silence, into “work was fine” and “I’m ok”, crept into their dreams as an embodied reoccurring nightmare, spilt out into overreactions and restrained responses. Their struggle reflected the struggle many of us face in our own lives.
The provocation of Father Figurine for me is to start those conversations with the men and young people around you, and even further than that, to stay in dialogue with those men of African and Caribbean heritage who often do not get help for their mental health until they are at crisis point.
Featured photograph from Body Politic
All views expressed in the review are my own. This review was commissioned.