Interview: Seven Arc Productions Talk In Limbo

In Limbo is the work of Seven Arc Productions and it’s heading to the Camden Fringe to raise awareness about male mental health. The show plays the Tristan Bates Theatre 31 July – 3 August 2019 (tickets here) so I caught up with Beatrice Hyde, Anna MacArthur, Shaun Amos and Catherine Boyle to talk all things In Limbo.

To begin, tell me a little about the company and the name – when and how did Seven Arc Productions come to be and what’s the vision?

Beatrice Hyde: The four of us trained together on the MA Acting course at East 15 Acting School and came together during our final MA project in March 2019. We discovered a shared passion for exploring male mental health and the prevalent suicide rates. This is how we originally conceived the beginnings of ‘In Limbo’. The name of the company came from the inspiration we took for our characters from Jung’s Seven Archetypes of Human Consciousness. They inspired us to explore different aspects of human beings in a familiar way. 

We found a great working dynamic in our group and after the success of our first scratch performance of ‘In Limbo’ at The Corbett Theatre, the four of us decided to develop ‘In Limbo’ further. Our aim as a company is to use imaginative frameworks to open up dialogues around sensitive or taboo subjects, such as mental health and male suicide. We want to encourage communication and we hope will allow people suffering to feel more supported and connected to those around them. 

In In Limbo, you follow the character James after he has died from suicide. How have you gone about devising a representation of an afterlife of some kind on stage?

Anna MacArthur: Without giving too much away from the story, Limbo is personal to James as an individual. We were cautious to tread carefully around the representation of a sort of ‘Purgatory’ in order to keep the whole audience engaged, no matter what their religious beliefs are. In Limbo, we journey through James’ life and look back on a selection of his memories (some happy and some painful) with accompaniment from Isla, James’ guide. Isla represents something big for James’ character. Something which he only discovers once the time is right.

The show explores very topical and important subject matter – is it a production seeking to educate as much as it seeks to engage and entertain as a piece of theatre?

Beatrice Hyde: In Limbo is seeking to raise awareness of the prominence of male suicide in today’s society. It especially looks to promote the importance of communication and active listening between those struggling with mental health and those who wish to support them. The fabulous Mark Harris, at Central London Samaritans, has been informing us about the practice of active listening that they use in their support. The focus is not on giving advice, but focuses on guiding the individual to find the answers they need within themselves. 

The Samaritans ask open ended questions and encourage the speaker find the support they need. We provide an example of this through the character of Isla, James’ guide through Limbo. We hope that James’ story can serve to raise awareness of the signs that someone is struggling with mental health that audience may recognise or can look out for. We also intend for James’s story to be relatable to those who aren’t necessarily going through mental health problems through exploring his relationship with his girlfriend and sister and his experience of school and University. 

Considering the nature of the subject matter, how are you ensuring that your handling of the subject is sensitive to those who live with the loss of suicide? How has working with Samaritans helped you to achieve this?

Shaun Amos: We have worked closely with Mark Harris from Central London Samaritans in order to ensure that we approach this subject in a manner that is as authentic as possible. As a company, we visited their offices and Mark kindly showed us exactly what a normal day was like for a Samaritans volunteer. He demonstrated to us how he responded to each phone call that he received. Mark gave us guidelines on what to avoid when creating a piece around this subject. 

He even allowed me (playing James) to do roleplay with him in character which was an incredibly moving experience – some of the lines from this particular role play made it into the show. Working closely with the Samaritans made us realise how much incredible work goes on everyday to help support those in need and ultimately that’s how we wanted our play to come across, sure it’s about male suicide but it’s also about hope.

You look at the issue of male suicide in this production – was it important to you to frame your work around this specific focus?

Shaun Amos: Absolutely. This was the first point of focus that we started to devise from. I had a passion to explore male suicide because I’ve felt suicidal in the past and at the time my thoughts could see no other way out. Only after regularly attending meetings that gave me a space to talk about exactly where my head was at, I was able to eventually get out of that head space. Over a few months, one day at a time, sure enough I got back on my feet. ‘In Limbo’ gives James a similar space where he can talk about his past without judgment, as he is taken on a journey of self-discovery. From my experience I knew I could bring a truthful story to ‘In Limbo’.  

James is guided on a journey to ‘confront his past’ – is there an Ebenezer Scrooge kind of second chance at life to be hoped for (minus the cantankerousness I suspect)?

Anna MacArthur: The relationship between James and his guide, Isla, is an interesting one to talk about without giving the whole game away. Conveying a message of hope is vital to us! Through care, love and active listening from Isla throughout the piece, James has a chance to reflect on himself and his past actions. But you will have to come along to find out more!

What drew you to the dynamic of combining work devised by the company but directed by Georgie Staight? Has the devised nature of the approach led to a more collaborative process of directing the work?

Beatrice Hyde: As mentioned previously, our shared interest in the subject matter, and connection to personal experience, enabled us to develop a good working methodology as a company. However, we felt that it was important for the development of this production to be taken even further and have a director to look at it from an outside perspective. We felt this was important in order to ensure that the narrative is portrayed clearly with the desired impact of promoting compassion and communication. 

Although devising without a director is fun it is a challenge. Working with our director, Georgie Staight, has enabled us to be able to focus on the portrayal of our characters truthfully with the knowledge that she is unifying the production as a whole. She came on board with the project after we had our first scratch performance. The actors in the show conceived the initial concept of In Limbo and Georgie’s fantastic addition to the team has meant we adopt a very collaborative approach in the development of the show. Georgie’s direction allows us to incorporate all of our ideas with a focused attention and stays true to our original intentions for the piece. 

In Limbo is billed as exploring ‘the pressures we face in modern society in a relatable, touching and poignantly funny way’ – why do you feel it is important to combine those three qualities in a narrative of this nature? 

Catherine Boyle: We want this play to be all about human connection, and keeping things relatable and funny can really help audiences to resonate with this delicate subject matter. We want the audience to leave In Limbo reflecting on the aspects of James they’ve seen in themselves or perhaps recognised in others close to them. In approaching this show with compassion and sensitivity we hope the audience relates to that. By opening up a conversation about the pressures we face in today’s society, with empathy and humour, we want to cast light on the fact that depression can affect anyone.

What does it mean to you to bring your show to the Camden Fringe?

Catherine Boyle: We are all so excited to be a part of the Camden Fringe. Fringe Festivals are such celebrations of creativity and new work and to bring our own contribution this year is a huge achievement. I’ve always loved going to see fringe shows as they just fill me with inspiration and that itch to create.  

If audiences take just one thing away from seeing In Limbo, what would you like that to be?

Catherine Boyle: That talking to someone isn’t weakness, it’s emotional strength. You have to be brave to face vulnerability. These are the words I scribbled down during one of our meetings with the lovely Mark from Samaritans, and they just seem to perfectly sum up what we want to offer our audience. And if you’re not someone who’s struggling at this point in time, look out for those that might be. That mate that’s dropped off the radar might just need an olive branch in the form of a coffee and a chat.   

And finally, to close – in one sentence only, why should people come to see In Limbo?

Because it’s an imaginative and original approach to exploring male mental health, which needs urgently addressing as suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK.

So there you have it – remember, In Limbo plays the Tristan Bates Theatre 31 July – 3 August 2019 and you can find tickets here.

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