FRANK has a problem. He doesn’t know how to talk to his son Alex about depression and anxiety. Mental health can be a difficult topic for anyone but maybe for Frank having gone through his own struggles with mental health is making it harder.
In Being Frankplaywright Philip R. Holden urges us to talk to each other about mental health issues before reaching a crisis point. The message is particularly aimed at men, who have the highest suicide rate of any demographic in the UK.
Weaving real-life stories into a fictional narrative, Being Frankuses humour, music, movement and a good deal of honesty to explore men’s relationships with each other, with mental health and with Ikea furniture.
In telling the story of how Frank and Alex navigate their scenario the cast present a picture of masculinity which encompasses a wide range of ages, sexualities and ‘types’ of masculinity which makes this an extremely accessible production.
Being Frankfeatures some original songs and the movement pieces work well at underscoring the character’s relationships. The cast also take on a variety of roles, adding to the universality of its themes, and their investment in the story is enough to get the audience invested too.
However, in seeking to tell an achingly honest story of his own struggles with mental health, Holden pulls his punches as far as drama and narrative focus are concerned.
Once we are invested in Alex and Frank’s story the production stops for the performers to sing an interminable song about a man named Barry. Barry also has depression but it feels a bit jarring being dragged away from Frank’s story to being immersed in Barry’s.
In dealing with men’s mental health this is a worthy and much-needed production and it accurately reflects the insidious nature of mental illness and how quickly it can derail your life. But the script stops short of showing us what a healthy conversation about mental illness actually looks like. Although it acknowledges how awkward and even terrifying conversations surrounding mental health can be it would be more pleasing to see the characters grow more comfortable talking to one another.