A month ago, to this day, we premiered an extended Father Figurine at The Place. And in the nearly sold-out audience was mental health worker and advocate Raza Griffiths.
“I found your piece the most emotionally appealing [of the triple bill],” says Raza. “Especially at the beginning where you weren’t talking that much. And you tried to engage with your dad physically using your body, and he’s shifting to one side or ducking and moving away. I personally found it quite moving.”
Father Figurine portrays a Black father and his son’s struggle with mental health issues and trauma. And Raza’s work for a BME and mental health service user led organisation called Kindred Minds makes Father Figurine quite familiar and real in his eyes.
“It had immediate emotional appeal,” he adds. “That tension, the kind of strain in the lack of communication between the father and son was quite tortured in a way. It was very arresting.”
With prior feedback of needing to be “more real” with “less acting”, we approached Father Figurine with hopes on being as real and authentic as possible. Showing a snippet of real life rather than acting in a theatre.
“I think people will respond to it in different ways,” comments Raza on our worry. “I personally found it quite moving. Other people might find it too much like acting, I don’t know, but I found that really moving and real actually.
“One of my uncles had quite a different reaction to it. It reminded him of kind of like a Bollywood film where this tradition or this idea of a father and a son and the difficult walls of silence they have exists. It was quite interested that it reminded him of that.”
The dynamic of a broken, emotionless father and son is one that exists in many BME communities. And this shows the need of representation of such cultures and minorities in such a topic. When done well, all can relate.
Raza speaks of this relatability, and finds that the tension between the father and son is “quite open” and opens up debate to the wider struggle of BME people suffering with mental health issues.
“Imagine two circles that overlap in the middle,” he says, with an elaborate metaphor brewing. “In the left circle you can say that in society BME communities experience racism. That’s one thing.
“But then in the right circle, within BME communities, we also experience prejudice and discrimination because of our mental health diagnosis. So we’re kind of in the middle experiencing these two sets of discrimination.”
Works like Father Figurine help in exploring these boundaries and pushing at stigma and stereotypes about BME communities with mental health issues. And especially with young people – our branching ‘The M Word’ aims to tackle the growing prevalence of mental health issues in young people.
“My impression was that it was mainly for students,” Raza says on Father Figurine’s best audience. “I mean, wellbeing and mental health issues are something experienced by the whole of society, it’s not just one group of people. But I think young people and students would be the best audience to reach. Your work would speak to them.
“Because you see, a lot of – if you’d like – mental health activists, are basically middle-aged. So we’re not necessarily that much in touch with young people. And through my work, one of the things I really want to do, is connect with universities and colleges.
“I think there’s a lot we can all learn from each other.”