A Network of Writing and Community Publishers

The Last Laugh
High Peak Writers
 17 May 2012

















The Last Laugh by High Peak Writers

Buxton Festival Fringe

13 & 14 July 2010

The story of a professional comedienne who experiences a psychotic episode and subsequent admission to a psychiatric word, The Last Laugh is a play that challenges common myths and misunderstandings about mental illness.

Originally written as a radio play this is now a dynamic piece of theatre with a strong anti-stigma message. Director Caroline Small has developed the play into a multi-dimensional production infused with vigour and lively action.

Actress Fiona Paul injects energy and emotion into her performance of the lead role as her character grapples with distracting and negative voices along with the stresses of daily life as a mother, daughter and partner. The audience witnesses her struggle and frustration as she finds herself caught up in the disturbing and chaotic world of the psychiatric ward. The play captures the complex nature of mental illness and the difficulties faced by family and friends as they try to understand and help recovery. An excellent supporting cast performed varied roles including psychiatrist, nurses, a shadow self representing internal voices and other patients. A lively production kept the audience involved as they followed the often disturbing scenes played out on stage. Several audience members were moved to tears by the sheer emotional strength of the play.

High Peak Writers are a self-help group who use creative writing as a therapeutic activity. Some of the members have personal experience of mental illness and these experiences have informed the content of the play. Louise Glasscoe has championed the work of the group and has ensured the successful appearance of The Last Laugh on stage as part of Buxton Festival Fringe 2010. The play presents a very balanced view of mental health, psychiatric treatment and services and provides an enlightening portrayal of mental illness and the recovery process.

Sarah Males

Eagle Hotel - Dutch's Bar 13 July 7pm

This new writing by High Peak Writers group, directed by Caroline Small, is powerful and deeply thought provoking. Peppered with black humour and moments of insight the company of local performers convincingly evoke a complex story and set of characters including; Jackie the stressed single mum who reaches her breaking point and slowly fights her way back to health, Jimmy her gay friend, Luke and Laura her teenage children, Paulo her loyal young partner, Susan her supportive friend, the over stretched but not uncaring nurses and Doctor, and her fellow patients (or are they inmates?)

The role of Jackie's 'other self' who encourages her to give in to weakness and self loathing is an excellent portrayal of a part of all of us. As Jackie gradually learns to embrace and use all of herself, her friends and family also go through a personal process of discovery. The psychiatric health care system is illustrated in a critical light from which Jackie emerges stronger and wiser thanks largely to her own resources, perhaps even despite the 'help' offered by a system over keen on labels and medication.

This is not light entertainment. It is however, evocative of truths we need to know and recognise. Originally written as a radio play, the 3D version, as it were, is powerful and an important piece of work delivered movingly by a group ranging from teens to retired local people who deserve both congratulations and our thanks for bringing this to Buxton Fringe.

There is another performance on 14 July, 7pm.

Jean Ball


Derbyshire Community Foundation end of grant report

Have you stuck to your original budget?

As I explained in my letter of 1 June 2010, we have used the entire DCF grant on professional fees, £2,420.00, and we have used up some of the funding from ticket sales to pay for the overspend of £58.00. The Mayoralties Charity funding (£200) paid for the room hire and the submission fee, petrol, refreshments, props, stationery, administration and publicity came from the ticket sales, fund-raising quiz and our usual funding from the PCT (see attached balance sheet).

What difference has your project made to the community?

We had a remarkable success with the play on both nights, 13 and 14 July, in that we sold all the tickets and we had to turn people away on both nights because there was such a demand to see it. I was told on Sunday 10 July that ‘the word on the street’ was that The Last Laugh was the play to see during the Buxton Fringe Festival and this turned out to be true. It is very unusual to have such a full house for a play during the Fringe as there is so much competition for audiences, with over 600 performances this year. The venue seats 40 and we may even have squeezed in a few more than that. Our audience was comprised of mental health professionals, friends and family of the actors, service-users, carers, members of High Peak Writers, theatregoers and interested parties. Sarah Males, Community Development Worker with High Peak Community Mental Health Team, and her partner, James Lampard, who came to watch the rehearsals, and filmed them, were very impressed by Caroline Small’s expertise: she made such a compelling adaptation of the radio play. All those who saw the play were extremely complimentary about the production and the high quality of the acting. Service-users in text messages wrote, ‘The play, The Last Laugh, was star quality and directed, produced and performed to a full audience. High Peak Writers, a writers’ group for people with mental health issues are to applauded under the Chairperson, Louise Glasscoe. Thank you for treading through the many many challenges, when at times your own mental health can be fragile.’; ‘You carried on remarkably under pressure and carried this play to fruition, thank you for highlighting mental health issues and for dedication all through so many months’; ‘Think what the police have said is fantastic. Congrats! Much much more important than the Buxton Oscars! Well done all of you, esp you Louise! Power to you!’; ‘Well done, the play was very moving’; ’Congrats on the play, it was a powerful performance; Well done. Congratulations! It was brilliant! Really admire you for having the vision and seeing it through! It was amazing.’ One of the actors wrote, ‘The play was a fabulous piece of writing and thank you for letting me be a part of it’. I have also met with mental health professionals and they have said verbally that it was ‘brilliant’. One member of the audience stopped me in the street to say that she had not expected to enjoy the play, as it was on a mental health theme, but said that it was excellent and just the right length. There was a cheer of approval at a performance poetry event last week in Buxton when the audience was asked whether the play was good. Unusually, there was very good participation in this event by members of High Peak Writers. One member of the Group read out one of her poems, which is very unusual, as she rarely has the confidence to do so. Many people have come up to me in the street and said how much they enjoyed it. Even before the play was performed the film-maker, James Lampard, who filmed some of the rehearsals, said that it was fantastic.

Pat Thompson, a member of High Peak Writers, and I were very impressed with Caroline’s professionalism, skill and knowledge. Fiona Paul was perfect for the lead role of Jackie and gave a magnificent performance and Alice Johnson showed exceptional talent in her role as Maggie. All the actors were excellent in their individual roles and they thoroughly enjoyed working on the Project and we all got on so well together. Nick Whitehead, who played Jimmy in the play, works in Derbyshire County Council Supporting People Team, overseeing their mental health funded services and he says that ‘the experience of working on this Project will give him new insight into the issues faced by service users and how me might go about re-shaping services for the future in Derbyshire.’

My sister, Claire Glasscoe, took some very good black and white photographs of the rehearsals and these were put on the Fringe website and on Facebook. I could send you these by email, if you wish, or you can visit High Peak Writers’ website www.high-peak-writers.btik.com. We had a good review, which is on the Fringe website, by Jean Ball, (see attached) although she made the mistake of thinking that the play was written by Caroline Small, the Director. Despite trying to rectify this error, however, the mistake was not changed on the Fringe website and the reviewer for the Fringe, Sarah Males, Community Development Worker with High Peak Community Mental Health Team, did not get her review (see attached) on the Fringe website. On Sunday 25 July, I went to the Fringe Awards ceremony and it was utterly disappointing that the play was not even nominated for ‘best new writing’ nor ‘best production’, when we had had such a wonderful and positive response to it. Fiona Paul was nominated for best actress but did not win an award. I don’t know how any performance in this year’s Fringe could have been better than hers, such is her talent. Many of the audience were moved to tears by her performance. A member of the police force, who saw the play, asked James Lampard for a copy of the DVD, once it is ready. I have also been asked by Open Up/Mind and Flexible Films, film-makers who work for Mind, for a copy of the DVD and the Mental Health Helplines Partnership (MHHP) want to showcase the DVD at a meeting, followed by a discussion, in London in December this year. Sarah Males thinks that the DVD could be used as an educational tool and that it could be very valuable. I am sure, also, that the ‘time to change’ team would want to put excerpts of it on their website. They helped me write press-releases about the play and I sent them to all the Fringe press contacts. I was recorded for High Peak Radio and the play was advertised in the Buxton Advertiser supplement. I wrote an article for Pure Buxton but it was not published. I sent BBC Radio Derby an email about the play, reminding them that I had been on Aleena Naylor’s mid-morning show on 9 October 2009 talking about the play, but they did not respond to it.

I attach copies of feedback sheets that were filled in by the audience after the play.

What difference has the grant made to your group?

The play has already made a remarkable difference to High Peak Writers’ morale. Only one service-user, who is somewhat peripheral to the Group, came to watch one rehearsal, such was their lack of enthusiasm for the Project initially. However, when they saw the play, they were completely astonished by its emotional power and impact. Since then they have sent me numerous text messages (see above) congratulating me and saying how powerful they thought it was and they are now 100% more enthusiastic about the Project. It may even motivate the Group into doing something else along these lines. One member of High Peak Writers, who is normally a recluse, has been to see another play in the Fringe with her brother and went to the Fringe desk to recommend The Last Laugh play for an award. Various other members of the Group have also done so at my request. They have given me moral support at the Fringe Awards Ceremony and have told me how proud they are of me and seeing the Project through. One member of the Group was overcome with emotion and hugged me at the end of the show and said how proud she was of me.

Pat Thompson, a member of High Peak Writers, and I have learned a great deal about theatre and acting from Caroline Small. Pat Thompson, who plays nurse Stella, was excellent in the part, and was very brave to take it on, considering she had not acted since her school days. She said that it was a challenge, although it was well worth it. It has certainly boosted her self-esteem. I have learned a great deal about production and what is involved. My mental health has improved so much over the last year that I am about to be discharged from psychiatric services, after 11 years in their care. High Peak Community Mental Health Team have been an invaluable support over the past year as have High Peak CVS. I have recently been elected Vice-Chair of Derbyshire LINk Steering Group Committee and I shall, hopefully, be trained as a Derbyshire LINk Champion in September so that I can represent them at key meetings. I have attended numerous Health and Wellbeing Partnership meetings at County Hall, Derbyshire. I have been filmed by Open Up for their Learning Resource Material on project management. This will be made available on various websites.

What has the grant meant to your group?

The Project has considerably raised the profile of the Group locally and nationally, mainly because of the links from High Peak Writers’ website. I have forged strong links with the time to change team as they were very interested in the projects. They helped me write the press-releases for me. The Project has also strengthened links with High Peak CVS and TheFED (a uk-wide network of writing and community publishers) of which I am Treasurer. I always keep TheFED informed about progress with the play. I recently went to an Open Up Conference in Birmingham where we promoted the play showing a slide show of the rehearsals from my laptop on our stand (see attached photograph of Pat and me).

Next steps

Next steps for the Group might be to form a small drama sub-group and perhaps some members of the Group might want to be actors and others could be writers. The Group could engage Caroline Small (who is a member of the National Association of Writers in Education) to help the Group in this endeavour. It would be good to have this play shown on World Mental Health Day, perhaps in the new community theatre they are building in Buxton. The Group would have to apply for a grant to do this in order to pay again for the professional fees, which would be very expensive. I would like to see the play being shown to a much larger audience, but it would be very expensive to tour it as most of the actors are amateurs and have full time jobs so they would have to take time off work and we would also have to pay for their food, travel and accommodation. It would be good if a theatre company were to take on the play and tour it. The time to change team might be able to help us with this. We will have to wait and see…

Louise Glasscoe, Producer, The Last Laugh

Secretary, High Peak Writers

13th & 14th July 2010

Performances of a radio play,
written by High Peak Writers,
adapted for stage,
by Caroline Small, Director,
starring Fiona Paul as Jackie
with actors from the local community

on 13 and 14 July 2010
at 7pm
in Dutch’s bar,
the Eagle Hotel, Buxton
10 Eagle Parade, Buxton

Tickets: £5.50 and £4.50 (concessions)
children over 12, unwaged,
OAPs, students, low income, disabilities
01298 77623
or glasscoe@tiscali.co.uk



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