A brand new musical focusing on issues of mental health, STOP looks to be the theatrical event of the term. Attending one of the cast’s rehearsals I was witness to what is very much a work in progress, but from what I saw this show has the potential to be something really special.
The story is centered around four characters, Justin, Chloe, Lewis and Martha, as they wait at a London bus stop. The characters have a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences but what they have in common is that they are struggling with their daily lives. Each character has a different kind of mental health issue; Chloe has bipolar type 2, whilst Lewis has body dysmorphic disorder and bulimia. One of the writers, Annabel Mutale Reed, explains to me the importance of each character having a specific, diagnosable mental issue and tells me of the extensive research that was undertaken in writing the musical; this included interviewing clinical psychiatrists and a PhD candidate who was researching uncertainty in mental illness. This elaborate research results in characters who are complex but reflective of real life experiences and struggles.
Whilst the characters are waiting for the bus they engage in discussion, allowing for an exploration of the problems they face. The audience is presented with alternate futures for each on the characters, a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ day; the bad day reveals the tragic consequences of their mental health issues going unaddressed, whilst the good day is more optimistic. The good day is not a ‘happily ever after’ but it does reveal the potential for the characters to change their paths.
The audience may be able to see parts of themselves in the characters and this contributes to the emotional poignancy of the show.
STOP has a small but extremely strong cast. The musical numbers that I saw performed in rehearsals were wonderful; they highlighted the great vocal abilities of the cast as well as their capabilities to convey deep emotion through song. As Annabel, who stars in the show as well as having co-written it with Leo Munby and directing, sung her character’s principle song ‘You Matter Today’, I was almost moved to tears, as did it seem were some of the other cast members. Jack Trzcinski and Kathy Peacock were equally brilliant in their renditions of their character’s solo numbers, even at this early morning rehearsal. The cast of STOP really sell themselves and are one of the reasons I think this show will be spectacular.
This musical is quite pertinent to British society and has a specific political message: Annabel tells me they want to highlight the danger of people not having a place where they can just stop. The fact that the musical is set on whatever day the show is performed, and the insertion of various references to figures such as Theresa May, serve to contribute further to these feelings of relevancy. The characters themselves are also relatable; Kathy Peacock mentions the fact that for many in Oxford her character’s incessant and hyper manic worry over exams will be something identifiable. The audience may be able to see parts of themselves in the characters and this contributes to the emotional poignancy of the show.
The one of piece of advice the cast and crew would give to the audience is ‘bring tissues’. Whilst STOP isn’t a tragedy, it looks like it will be an incredibly moving, and at times relatable experience for the audience, I certainly would agree that tissues will be a necessity.
STOP will be performed in the Burton Taylor from the 24th to the 28th of January, the show had sold out.