Three Drama graduates from the University of Hull are bringing fear, anxiety, and depression to the Hull Truck Theatre with their show ‘Broken Little Robots’… but they are also bringing optimism, celebration, and hope for the future.
Rachael Abbey, Lizi Perry, and Jess Morley, collectively known as The Roaring Girls are set to perform their ‘positive play about mental health’ on the studio stage from Wednesday the 13th to Friday the 15th of July – also starring musician and composer James Frewer, who provides witty and poignant musical numbers as well as adding a male perspective to the conversation. The girls kindly invited a HYMS Student Blog representative to attend one of their rehearsals and interview them about their project. As both a medical student and theatre enthusiast, I was eager to learn more about this unique show and the motivation behind it.
The concept for the play began – like many good things – over tea and cake! Rachael explained: “We came up with this idea about mental health and what it feels like to be broken. All the work we do is autobiographical. When we first started, Jess and I were just sat in a room together with a cup of tea and some cake, and we talked about anything and everything. We’ve both suffered with depression. So we compared experiences and then did a lot of automatic writing where you go straight into writing what’s in your head – and we actually use some of that verbatim in the play.”
Jess described her experience writing and performing the show: “It was very therapeutic for me, the whole process. Because up until Rachel saying ‘do you want to do this show with us?’ I hadn’t really talked to anyone about my mental health apart from my family. My friends didn’t really know much about it. So it felt like a big step for me to talk about our brains and mental health in front of an audience of strangers! But [during the writing process] once I started talking, I couldn’t stop – it was great to know I wasn’t alone. The way it started was conversational and that’s the style of the show. We do talk to the audience, though they don’t have to talk back! Like the Let’s Talk campaign, we wanted to talk openly about mental health and try to help break down that stigma. We hoped that if we shared our experiences they might resonate with someone. Or if someone doesn’t have any experience of mental illness they can get a better understanding.”
The Roaring Girls debuted a prototype of the play in 2015 at Assemble Fest, a local arts festival on Newland Avenue in Hull. They created a 25-minute piece for the festival and were astonished by the overwhelmingly positive response they received, a reaction none of them had been expecting. Rachel said: “We had people come up to us at the end and say ‘I really needed to see this today’ or asking for advice. You end up having really intense conversations.” Representatives from the Hull and East Yorkshire branch of the mental health charity MIND were also in attendance at the Assemble Fest performance and enjoyed the show so much they invited the girls to perform a snippet of it at their 40th anniversary ball.
‘Broken Little Robots’ is now much more evolved than the piece they premiered last year at Assemble Fest. Lizi explained: “After Assemble Fest we found there was so much more we wanted to go into that we just didn’t have time for. So now we’ve had the time to go deeper into it, do some more research, and be able to build it into something bigger! We have all new music, all new sections, it’s been totally reworked and developed in lot of ways.”
The girls are now looking forward to sharing their show with more people at the Hull Truck Theatre and emphasised their willingness to speak to anyone who wanted to talk about their own experience with mental health or wanted to know where they could go to get help. Jess said: “We have a card that we give out at the end of the show with places people can go for help like Samaritans and MIND. We’re not pretending to be experts and we wouldn’t want to try and tell people what will work for them – it’s so individual, we’ve seen the differences between the three of us. We are more than happy to stick around and have drinks with people at the end and have a chat!”
Summing up the nature and aims of the show, Lizi noted: “We didn’t want it to be depressing just because it’s a show about depression. And we didn’t want to just say, ‘let’s talk about it’. We wanted to actually have that conversation on stage. We wanted to foster further conversations by starting with an invitation to join our personal conversation.”
It was a pleasure meeting and speaking to Rachael, Lizi, and Jess. Their passion for performing and the show’s subject matter was very apparent and inspiring. After watching the girls and James rehearse, I could not recommend the show more highly. If you see one thing in Hull this week, make it ‘Broken Little Robots’.
Broken Little Robots runs at Hull Truck Theatre from the 13th to the 15th of July. For tickets, click here.
Thank you to The Roaring Girls and James Frewer for their time and words. Thank you to Vicki Taylor, Communications Officer at Hull Truck Theatre, for arranging the meeting and guiding me through the corridor maze. All photos used with permission from Hull Truck Theatre and credited to Facet Photography (www.facetphotography.co.uk)