STOP is a deeply moving and grounding play, reminding us of the importance of ‘stopping’ in this chaotic, highly pressured modern world. The four characters – Justin, Lewis, Chloe and Martha – all meet at a bus stop and we are taken in to each of their worlds in an emotionally charged, tear-jerking production.
At first I was slightly dubious about the mix of musical and mental health. The first few minutes were slightly bizarre, jumping from Justin (Jack Trzcinski) sobbing down the phone to Chloe (Kathy Peacock) singing about the weather. However, this play just went from strength to strength, especially as the musical developed and we saw more ‘numbers’ as opposed to conversations in song. The music was truly beautiful at times, and enabled the characters to recount their stories and discuss many key issues behind mental health in an engaging and enlightening way.
STOP is a play with a clear and commendable mission.
The cast themselves were extremely strong. Each of the four actors showcased their vocal abilities and acting skill, bringing the audience into their personal stories and ensuring full emotional involvement in just a few scenes. Lewis’s (Eoghan McNelis) ‘lad’ exterior broke down in a moving revelation of his past, exploring issues surrounding notions of masculinity in modern culture: “good boys don’t know how to cry”, while Chloe’s toxic stress over exams is undoubtedly something that many students can relate to. Lyrics to the songs often shone through with power and poignancy – “excellence isn’t a duty, you just have to be.” The best moments though, undoubtedly came when the cast sang together. Their harmonies were beautiful, and created a real sense of togetherness on stage as the characters supported each other, discussing their problems.
Happily running throughout was strong comic relief in the form of popular culture references and the character’s own well-timed delivery. Kathy stole the show in this regard, naturally drawing a laugh as a flustered Chloe with her brilliantly articulated, fast-paced singing. Importantly though you could get a very real sense of the seriousness and relevancy of the play. On arrival we were given leaflets about the two mental health charities that the play is sponsoring ‘The Black Dog Campaign’ and ‘Oxford Mental Health Support Network’. The plot follows Justin giving a speech detailing facts and figures of Panic Disorders and Agoraphobia and a duet of ‘Treat Yourself’ from Eoghan and Annabel Mutale Reed as Martha, preaches self-love in an uplifting and inspirational way. We are shown two different outcomes for the characters – reaching out for help from the NHS, or not. STOP is a play with a clear and commendable mission.
At times the scene changes were slightly disjointed and clunky and you could feel lost within the plot as we jumped back and forth to different bus stop scenes. However, everything came together conclusively at the end and the central idea of ‘decisions’ was brought to the fore. One of the last songs, ‘You Matter Today’ was sung incredibly by the unbelievably talented Annabel and brought tears to my eyes. It was no surprise that there was a universal standing ovation on the opening night. STOP is play that I will not forget in a long time.