Bucking the trend and defying Britishness: a preview of STOP

James Tibbles takes a sneak peek at STOP, the OUDS touring musical

One of the latest articles about mental health on the BBC website declares that the number of people waiting for mental health treatment in Wales has doubled over the past six years. It is into this crisis, and more, that STOP will speak this summer.

The play proved to be something really special by causing a stir among Oxford University students after its run at the Burton Taylor Studio earlier this year. Now the show has been fully workshopped with Claude Michel-Schonberg (composer of Les Mis), the cast and team seek to pop the student bubble and assert the production in an industry where new musicals are struggling to make a meaningful impact. STOP explores the artless question: what happens if we simply stop, listen, and learn from each other?

Yet, when I sat watching the stripped-back rehearsal in a bare college boathouse, it struck me just how painfully relevant the script is; Annabel Mutale Reed, lyricist and writer, combines contemporary cultural references with sensitive but unashamed characterisation to tell the stories of Justin, Chloe, Martha and Lewis. Their overlapping stories, set to Leo Munby’s impossible score, uncover the reality of four different mental illnesses: alcoholism, bulimia, bipolar type 2, and panic disorder.

These important labels, however, might betray the universality of the experiences in the show. Producer, Naomi Chapman, assures me that the most endearing quality of STOP is that everyone can identify with the experiences of the characters, or may have seen them in others if not in themselves. By putting these stories under the spotlight, the writers seek to thwart the awkward Britishness surrounding conversation about mental health in a production that is altogether funny, exciting, and profoundly moving.

If the team play their cards right, this show is sure to “stop” people in their tracks and challenge a generation struggling to stay afloat in a world that just keeps on moving. I can’t wait to see how the show has developed on opening night later this week.

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STOP will start its stint as the OUDS tour at the Pegasus Theatre on 28th/29th July 2017 before a full run at the Edinburgh Fringe, and a week at the Cockpit in London. For the performances in Oxford the team also invite you to workshops with the mental health charity SANE which will take place at 6:45pm both Friday and Saturday. For more information about how to book tickets go to: www.stopthemusical.com and www.facebook.com/stopmusical