The huge issue of masculinity and the mental health of boys and young men is made starkly apparent in a new play developed and produced by the Oxford-based Mandala Theater Company. It will open its national tour at the North Wall Arts Center in Oxford on January 25, 2023.
The production, “MAD(E)”, is a passionate, uplifting and unique theatrical commentary on masculinity and young men’s mental health, co-created with boys and young men nationwide.
It was written by Sean Burn for the Mandala Theatre, after painstaking research involving nearly 100 boys and young men in Oxford and across the UK. It tells an epic story of life, death, and everything in between. 3 guys – existing under the hostile environment, carry their worlds in an urn, a bivouac bag and the land of the motherland, dodging a system that engulfs and traumatizes them. Shot from a comedic chorus of ‘pisstroughers’, physical theater and poetry – it’s a moving indictment of society’s need to act now, doing nothing is not acceptable.
Sean Burn, screenwriter of MAD(E) says: “The idea of the play is the word made not mad, it’s life, it’s stuff, it’s events, it’s hurt, it’s a trauma, poverty could be violence. Rather than erecting barriers, it’s about finding a connection. I think if boys cried more, everyone would be healthier.
Some of those who contributed were 13/14 year old boys in schools, high school and college students and others in youth groups across the country.
Yasmin Sidhwa, director of Mandala Theatre, explains that the production focuses on the consequences of society’s perception of masculinity and the lack of support for boys and young men who experience trauma in their lives.
“It’s a serious crisis,” says Yasmin. “Young people with special educational needs or mental health challenges, or from ethnically diverse or low-income backgrounds are particularly vulnerable. Yet their voices are never heard. This piece gives them a voice. We I’ hopes “MAD(E)” will move people and make them wonder why it is in 2022, suicide rates among 15-19 year olds are the highest in 30 years. These are statistics that tell us that something has to be done.”
According to Professor Joanne Begiato – historian, exploring masculinity, at Oxford Brookes University, in shedding light on a life-saving issue aggravated during the pandemic, ‘MAD(E)’ is a story of our time: “There’s always a cultural script that defines how men are allowed to be and think about themselves. That need for care and love isn’t always recognized. The tricky thing for men is that they’re told that to be a man, to assert your patriarchal rights, to be dominant, there’s always an undercurrent of physical strength.”
“The resolution of the piece seems to me to be to bring people together and be able to openly express the need for love, it’s not just a hope or an aspiration, it’s a right.”
Mandala Theater director Yasmin Sidhwa hopes the tour will help foster a better understanding of the issues and the need to act to address them before irreversible damage is done to young people. “It’s a story young people can relate to. They’ll see their stories on stage and that’s a powerful thing. When you’re from an ethnically diverse background or a low-income family, you’re far less likely to access support, We get used to being ignored, but here’s a piece that puts those young people in the center of attention.”
MAD(E) embark on a national tour in Oxford from 25 January 2023 at the North Wall Arts Center in Oxford.
Photo credit: Stu Allsopp