The suicide conversation is long overdue - Derry writer

Blinkered is the hard hitting new production from Sole Purpose
Blinkered is the hard hitting new production from Sole Purpose

It’s a sensitive issue - a minefield in which writers, actors and all of us must tread carefully - but, nonetheless, the issue of suicide is one which needs to be brought out into the open according to Pat Byrne, writer with the Sole Purpose Theatre Group.

This is why Pat, with her team at Sole Purpose, decided to tackle the issue of suicide in their latest production ‘Blinkered’ - which will tour local secondary schools before showing at the Playhouse.

Determined to get it right, she enlisted the help and advice of Siobhan O’Neill, Professor of Mental Health Studies at Ulster University, Connor McCafferty, Chair of the Suicide Strategy Implementation Board and Bridie Sheridan formally of YouthLife.

“It’s a very sensitive issues which needed to be tackled in a very sensitive way - particularly due to the age group who will be seeing the play in schools.

“We had to think through everything - what is said, what is shown, what is present on set - and how we deal with the issues raised after,” added Pat.

The play centres on the story of Ryan, a young man trying to cope with everyday life, and his family, who are busily doing the same. Ryan addresses the audience - showing them, but not his family, what is going on in his mind as he moves closer and closer to taking his own life.

Siobhan O’Neill, who has been involved in the process throughout, said: “This is a very powerful production. It’s funny in places. It’s edgy and it’s real - so the young people watching it will relate. It’s important it’s on their level.

“What’s most powerful about the project is that after the performance students will be given the chance to discuss what could have been done to help Ryan, what he could do himself - and the actors play that out on stage.

“For a young person sitting in the audience, who may be struggling to have that conversation themselves it opens a window to help. It gives them tools to help.”

Counsellors will be present at the performances - and due to a tie with Aware, a follow up event will be held several weeks following each performance.

“We need to have this conversation,” Siobhan said. “And Pat is facilitating that in a remarkable away. I have never seen anything like this - it is exceptionally powerful viewing.”

For Pat getting inside the head of a suicidal young man was emotionally draining but vital to the project. “It was difficult, but it had to be written with truth and honesty.”

‘Blinkered’ by Pat Byrne, will be performed at the Playhouse on March 3. It has been funded by the Derry Legacy Fund and the Halifax Foundation for Northern Ireland. It stars Anne Gallagher, Patrick McBrearty, Pat Lynch and Katie Patton.