On Friday 26 October Skitzoid Productions will be performing their show Game Over. Profits will go towards supporting Liverpool Mental Health Consortium which advocates for people living with mental distress.
The play is a black comedy about two men who take their own lives on the same night and have to compete via a series of game-show rounds for the right to stay dead.
It’s Judgement Day, but only losers will be admitted.
Game Over aims to both entertain and get under the covers of why someone might consider taking their own life.
I caught up with writer and director Dave Bain to learn a little bit more about the show and the upcoming performance.
Game Over is a black comedy exploring the theme of suicide. Where did the inspiration for the play come from? Do you think the way things are right now mean that this is an important story to tell?
I am interested in this theme from both a professional and personal perspective.
For the last eight years I have worked at The Maytree Respite Centre. They offer support to people in suicidal crisis. It’s quite a thing to witness on a daily basis – people who have effectively reached the end of the line existentially. Supporting them, and potentially becoming part of their recovery process is both humbling and rewarding. On a more personal level, I was suicidal when I was fifteen years old, so I relate to the isolation, despair and hopelessness that sets in with long term depression and suicidal feelings.
Suicide has been much more in the news across the last few years, and awareness about it has really grown. However, it’s really important that we listen and support people who are crisis, and that we are prepared to talk about things that might feel uncomfortable. I hope that Game Over can contribute to this awareness.
Can you tell me a little bit about the story?
Game Over is site-specific, black-comedy musical about two men who take their own lives on the same night and have to compete via a series of game-show formats for the right to stay dead… X factor meets judgement day!
At the start of the play we see them arrive in “limbo”, a dark place populated by lost souls (the audience) and “Death”. Death explains that due to a clerical error, only one of them will be allowed to die – and that the other will have to go back to “their living hell on Earth”.
In order to decide who dies, both characters are forced to play a series of game-show style rounds to see who has the more miserable existence, thereby showing themselves worthy of Grim Reaper’s scythe. As the play unfolds game-show devices are used to uncover the truth about each character’s back-story and also ask them to explore the reasons for their current predicament.
Despite its subject matter, we hope the play explores some of the issues around suicide and depression in an entertaining and original way as it is also fairly anarchic and humorous.
Being the writer and director allows you to make changes to the script as you work with the actors. Is the final show different to the original script? Did you encourage your actors to improvise during rehearsals?
We’ve performed the show seven times across the last year and I think that everyone in the cast really hates me because I never stop changing the script! But it’s all aid of giving the audience the best experience we can.
I’m also a great believer in the power of the collective. Creatively, a group is much stronger than any one person. So during rehearsal I tried to be as open as I could in terms of the cast chucking in ideas. Because I’m also the writer, that was sometimes difficult. I had to let go of the script, and see what served the work best. As a director sometimes I need to get out of the way; the cast we have are such a creative and smart bunch, so they tend to make exciting and interesting choices, but they need to feel safe enough to be able to bring those choices.
But to answer your original question, the Casa script is probably 20% different from the original draft. For example, we’ve dropped two songs and added story arcs for the supporting characters. I also wrote an opening number (Shout it out loud) at the behest of the cast.
We did a bit of improvisation during the rehearsal period, but I think it works better for scripts where the themes, beats and movements are a bit less locked down. The structure of our play (the game show format) gives the narrative a constant forward momentum.
The show explores male suicide in particular. Male mental health is something which charities such as CALM are trying to raise awareness of. Are you hoping that your show gets people thinking about male mental health?
Yes. And I think that’s been one of the most gratifying things about the feedback from audiences so far. People are leaving feeling entertained, but they also feel that they’ve experienced a world that they didn’t know much about before.
In some respects Game Over reflects a very male outlook in the way it treats mental health. At the start of the play our characters are very guarded about their feelings, and use comedy or aggression to deflect attention away from themselves. However as the play progresses they slowly start to shed their skins. Now, this is a bit of a crass generalisation, but it mirrors what happens with male clients when I’m working as a psychotherapist.
Using comedy is often a very effective way to get a serious message across. Is your play something that gets people thinking?
My brother-in-law is not a theatre person, and not someone who has much time to dwell on mental health issues as he works in the City and has a family to support. But he loved the play, and told me he kept thinking about the play’s themes for several weeks afterwards.
Are you influenced by other works about mental health?
I love Terry Gilliam’s work. I think The Fisher King was so clever in the way it explored trauma and grief. And many of his other movies are cloaked in existential themes and mythical symbolism that speak more at an unconscious level. I love the idea of sneaking in this stuff under the cover of a good night out.
Are there any writers you think have influenced the way we look at mental health?
It feels like this is currently exploding at the moment. There are so many fringe shows about suicide, depression and mental health. It’s hard to pinpoint older writers. I guess that Chekhov was one and in an oblique way, Pinter. It’s always the stories that stay with me more than the writers – so Matter of Life and Death and It’s a Wonderful Life are biggies. Also, I’ve just watched the first season of The Twilight Zone and virtually every episode is about death.
You are performing Game Over in the Theatre at the Casa, Liverpool on 26 October. This will be the final performance of Game Over in 2018. Are there any other performances in the pipeline? What else lies in the future for you?
This will be our final performance for 2018. We’re angling for a performance just outside London next year, but it’s early days for that one. Once Liverpool is done and dusted, I’m going to sit down and try to work out how to budget for a three week run of Game Over in London. Short answer: with great difficulty!
I’m also halfway through writing our next show. It’s a site-specific musical about trauma with an all-female cast. I like the idea of challenging myself to see if I can write well rounded female characters. Women writers are great at writing men, but I don’t think we can really say the same thing the other way round – particularly when you look at Hollywood movies. I also want to write a musical with songs that aren’t what you expect from musical theatre. I think the genre sometimes gets bogged down in its own conventions, which makes it less interesting.
What piece of advice would you give to someone wanting to write and direct their own play?
Be true to your own voice, and strive to be as authentic as you can. Be mindful of other people’s negativity; constructive criticism is great, but you’re the one putting it out there. Also, remember that criticism of the work is not criticism of you. I still struggle with this one daily.
You can buy tickets on the Theatre at the Casa website.
Please let me know if you see the show on Friday and what you think of it.
Break a leg Dave and everyone else at Skitzoid Productions!