And fifthly, a GOOD LUCK to all the team, a THANK YOU to everyone who’s coming to support us next week, and a temporary GOODBYE to Facebook whilst we all focus on making the premiere of this very special project as memorable as it deserves to be.
HOAX as a project has been almost two years in the making, but so much of it now comes down to these last three weeks before the HOAX My Lonely Heart musical opens – the three weeks that are our rehearsals.
Now two weeks in, these rehearsals have meant director Benji Reid, composer Minute Taker, production manager Chris Whitwood, and our three actors, Olivia, Tachia and Stephen, locked together, all the time, in the Royal Exchange Theatre’s rehearsal rooms, trying to teach and learn a full script, complete with 16 songs and two very complex emotional journeys, not to mention the moves, cues, positionings, timings, and everything else that goes into putting a show like this onto stage.
Given the enormity of this task, it amazes me there hasn’t been an all out massacre in there. Instead, with Benji’s cool, Minute Taker’s calm, and the sheer focus and commitment in the room, the progress had been extraordinary.
My job throughout this period has been to rework the script whenever necessary; taking feedback from the floor whenever the director or actors have found something that doesn’t feel quite right or takes too long, making edits and cuts accordingly, and as quickly as possible so as not to break the performers’ flow.
Like every other aspect of HOAX, rehearsals have been a team effort. Of course we’re all hoping for success next week when the show opens, but whatever happens we’ll have done our best and can be very proud of that.
Thirdly, here’s a bit more of an insight into what goes into a show like HOAX My Lonely Heart, in the form of Producer Pippa’s production meeting notes – though I’ve had to censor out a few little bits so as not to give away any spoilers….
The first production meeting was held on Monday 7th April.
The group talked through all production aspects of the show. This included:
Designer Jim Bond shared the model of the set, and the group discussed the stage layout, size and relevant design needs. Elements include [CENSORED].
AV designer Sumit Sarkar talked through the visions around [CENSORED].
The lighting will be designed by Director Benji Reid. It was agreed they would [CENSORED].
The team went through the props list and Benji suggested [CENSORED].
These will be [CENSORED].
Okay, I know that was a little harsh. But what can I say? You’ll just have to come along and SEE THE SHOW!
Secondly, a proper introduction to the actors.
Last time I talked about the HOAX My Lonely Heart actors, it was in relation to the rehearsals we held in London to find our ‘Helen’.
Find our Helen we did, in the form of the beautifully talented and big-hearted Olivia Sweeney.
Olivia joins our Rob, who is played by the searingly powerful Tachia Newall. If you miss this opportunity to see Tachia perform live, in front of you, within the intimate space of the Royal Exchange studio – trust me, you will regret it.
Both are joined on stage by our third performer Stephen Myott-Meadows. We worked with Stephen last year during the HOAX research and development week, and are thrilled to have him on board now, confirmed in the role of ‘the condition’.
Three incredible performers over four premiere-run nights:
HOAX My Lonely Heart
June 4th – 7th
Royal Exchange Theatre
A whole lot of coming-up-to-speed posts this week as we get closer and closer to the premiere of HOAX My Lonely Heart next week. NEXT WEEK!
Firstly, HOAX Psychosis Blues is almost ready to go. The printing is all finished now and the book is on its way to us ‘here at Ziggy’s Wish’. Which reminds me that I don’t think I ever officially announced the Ziggy’s Wish rename?
Formerly Very Cross Media, I decided to change the name when designer Wayne Marsden just couldn’t quite come up with a logo that felt right. Knowing how good Wayne is at designing logos, it occurred to me there must be a problem with the actual name – that the name and the essence of the endeavour I wanted the logo to convey didn’t quite match. So I changed it to Ziggy’s Wish - because this whole endeavour is born out of love for my ex-racer greyhound Ziggy, and because his racing name had been Twiggy’s Wish.
After the name change, everything felt much more aligned, and the logo that Wayne has created couldn’t be more perfect. It’ll be such a proud moment seeing it printed upon the HOAX Psychosis Blues cover in a few days’ time.
The tenth and final HOAX Psychosis Blues sneak peek comes from Leonardo M. Giron (aka Glen). Unlike the other 9 illustrators involved with HOAX, Glen didn't illustrate a poem. Instead it was his job to depict the real-world narrative that interlinks them.
Set against the rich art of the poetry, Glen had to find a balance that was at once simple and honest yet deeply moving. Did he manage it? Of course he did! He's Glen :)
What 'HOAX Psychosis Blues' brings us is a skilful arrangement of narration and fractured images, strung through with the veins of Rob's own poetry that describes his life, fracturing and reassembling over and over. The cocoon of reality is spun in the form of Leonardo M. Giron's beautifully frank, washed out pages- the chapters which detail moments from each year of Rob's illness from his sister's perspective. His ability to capture poignancy in the smallest of expressions gives life to these reflections- quiet memories, both happy and bitter, all plain as daylight. Each chapter is headed by a bundle of lines coiling to form a chrysalis, falling apart, and finally producing the shape of a butterfly- in the same way that reality seems to constrain Rob before he finally breaks free.
In between these 'year' chapters is Rob's poetry, illustrated in turns by different artists, each with a richness well suited to the intricacies of his mind. In Rob's writing, sometimes erratic and dark, laid with frantic repetitions- 'A warning, a warning'- sometimes thick with self-loathing, sometimes spiritual, mystical, and sometimes faintly joyful as he wonders about life beyond death, we see the fracturing of identity that is familiar to anyone who has experienced psychosis. Ravi has been neither gentle nor condemning in tying these strings together, but honest. Her work and artistry here is mostly invisible, curating thoughts and feelings spanning over nine years into the shape of a man. But Ravi's own grief is not ignored in order to inspect Rob's illness; neither is his illness and pain diluted to make a better story. The story is the honest truth, in all its real unpleasantness as well as its strange unreal beauty. I found the inclusion of the line regarding how they found Rob's body after his suicide- "We weren't even allowed to look at you- Fucking... health and safety"- to be particularly brave.
For those of us living in the strange coloured shadows of psychosis, who always seem to skirt death too closely, this book is a message in a bottle reminding us that we are human, we are loved, and that "after all, your karma's not that bad". Ravi doesn't allow the story to end with Rob's death; it continues with the writing of their book, it continues with love. With the degree of mystery, stigma, and fear that shrouds mental illness, it's something special to be understood on the profound level that Ravi writes from here. It's something even more special to behold a message that you have been heard; that if nothing else, says, "Here is a reason to hold on." It's an important, incredible, and accessible book both for those living in the shadows and those who care about us, looking in from the outside.
I have a deep appreciation for Ravi Thornton's work here, as I do for the artists who lent their talents so sensitively to illustrating this life and mind. Dislocated, discordant, but never distant, Ravi's got the real 'blues' down to a tee, and the result is a beautiful and important book. I look forward to seeing the theatre adaption in Manchester next month- and seeing Ravi to congratulate her on this incredible undertaking.
You can pre order the book through Ravi's publishing house Ziggy's Wish: http://www.ziggyswish.com/products/hoax-psychosis-blues and tickets to the show are available here: http://www.royalexchange.co.uk/event.aspx?id=791
[Read the original review here.]
When I read "HOAX Psychosis Blues" by Ravi Thornton, I found it incredibly eye-opening and breathtakingly beautiful. Suffering from mental health issues myself, I know that there isn't a lot of literature around about mental health problems, and the experiences of those suffering, but it's an important tool that should be used more to educate people on these kinds of issues, and I feel like this wonderful graphic novel will contribute to that.
The way that many artists have worked together to show their own interpretation on the poems and the protagonist's feelings have worked very well to create such a moving and inspiring graphic novel, which many people from all backgrounds and situations will be able to appreciate. Rob's poetry, which fits so well into the novel alongside the artwork, is used in such a way to make it a very personal account, and this will hopefully remind readers that real people are in similar situations. Each section is individually crafted, and it is both the beautiful artwork and amazing poetry that compliment each other so well which leaves an impression on the reader, and it is this which is most important of all, as this touching novel will hopefully help many people begin to understand the severity of mental health problems, and make many realise that they are not alone.
I am Eliza Lindsay, 17 years old and I live at home in Wiltshire and at boarding school in Banbury. Having previously suffered from depression, self harm and eating problems, I have now made it my mission to try and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health especially in schools, and am campaigning for mental health to be taught in schools.
When I was first approached by Ravi Thornton to review her graphic novel Hoax, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I’d never read a graphic novel before and was (and still am!) a novice in reviewing! However, after reading the first few chapters of Hoax, I knew that it was something special.
Hoax tells the tragic story of Rob, a young man living with schizophrenia, through the novel and the beautiful artwork that accompanies it. I think that in many ways the artwork and illustrations spoke more to me than the words, as they gave incredible visualisations of something that affected Rob, and those around him, so deeply. The different sections of artwork that are shown after each chapter are all stunningly beautiful in their own way and completely different from each other, with many incorporating the words, lyrics, poetry into the images.
I think that having different illustrators for each section works amazingly well, as they can interpret the words themselves and create something that people may or may not be able to relate to. As a mental health sufferer, I know the extreme range of emotions that you can feel, and I also know that no mental health experience is the same to another persons. Hoax shows this through the diverse and often surreal artwork, and of the nine sections I can imagine that any mental health sufferer can relate to at least one of them in some small way. For me it was Detainment.
Preceding each of the art sections, in a comprehendible comic strip style, is a chapter representing a year of Rob’s story. It provides a base in the novel, a way of keeping in touch with the stark reality of Rob’s situation and how it affects himself and those around him by seeing his journey, witnessing his ups and downs and his eventual fate. The illustrations offer an otherworldly, symbolic representation of Rob’s feelings and emotions, but the chapters keep us involved with Rob and his journey in mental illness.
Despite the beauty and uniqueness of the novel, tragically, Rob did commit suicide. This is shown tactfully in the novel, with a final meeting with his sister, and the idea of being free and finally experiencing joy. My only worry is that some would consider it as ‘glamorising suicide’, but to this I would say that no, it does not. That would be a gross misinterpretation, as people can still find the joy and liberty that Rob found in death, in life, even from the deepest depression. Hey, I’m living proof. It’s just found differently for different people. And anyway, Hoax shows a man’s journey that didn’t end in suicide. Ravi has honoured her brother’s memory and kept his journey going with Hoax, and that journey doesn’t look as though it’s going to be ending anytime soon.
So if you do read Hoax, (which you should), just remember that you are not alone in any struggles that you might have. Rob’s story shows you this, as there is always someone there for you and someone who has experienced mental health problems too, no matter what problem it might be. Rob had his sister, Ravi, who supported him during his life and has carried out his dreams after his death, and there will be someone for you. Let Rob’s story inspire you to find that person and let them help you, and maybe you’ll be able to help them in the process.
Ravi’s website: http://ravithornton.com
Preoder the book here: http://www.ziggyswish.com
Ravi’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/writer.ravithornton
Ravi’s twitter: https://twitter.com/ravithornton
[Read the original review on Eliza's Wordpress page.]
Hoax Psychosis Blues
Ravi Thornton, Illustrated by Bryan Talbot, Rian Hughes, Julian Hanshaw, Karrie Fransman, Mark Stafford, Hannah
Berry, Rhiana Jade, Ian Jones, Leonardo M. Giron, Rozi Hathaway
When I reviewed Ravi Thornton’s intriguing previous graphic novel (with Andy Hixon) The Tale of Brin & Bent & Minno Marylebone a couple of years ago (see here) I said that in some ways it was difficult to do justice to it in a review, because it was such a lyrical, dream-like travel through metaphors and symbols, something to be experienced, that a simple review just wouldn’t really capture properly. That’s even more true of this new work, a deeply personal, intensely emotional piece. Or I should say pieces – there is this graphic work Ravi has created, with the collaboration of a brilliant and diverse series of artists (including Bryan Talbot, Hannah Berry, Rian Hughes, Karrie Fransman and more – see above), but there is also a musical production. Both stage and book draw on the never published poetry of her late brother, Rob.
I could tell you it follows Rob as he struggles with mental illness, from the worrying signs of something being wrong but Ravi and others not being sure what it is, through diagnosis, treatments, the alternating tides of recovery and the troughs of mental anguish, and how it affects him, his family, everyone around him. And that would be a true statement, as far as it goes, of what we read here, but as I indicated, this is not a simple, linear narrative, it’s more like a series of experiences, different chapters with different artists adding to the kaliedoscope sensation offering different perspectives into Rob’s mental state and how he is seeing the world, sometimes with pleasure or hope, sometimes with dreadful, heart-rending anguish.
Some segments are like being on the ocean at night, a dark mirror, seemingly calm, reflecting silvery moonlight, beautiful – but you don’t know what lies under that dark mirror. There are depths, deep, lightless, with currents that can grab us, move us, we swim but those currents will carry us anyway, sometimes to wash up upon golden sands, other times to dash us on rocks between our own personal Scylla and Charybdis and it feels like we are at their mercy, and, just as horrific, our loved ones around us desperate to help, to soothe and feeling helpless, seeing us struggle, trying, oh trying so hard to help and despairing that it’s never enough. I’m sure those are familiar sensations and feelings to anyone who has dealt with mental health problems (or indeed serious physical health problems) or tried to take care of someone enduring them. In one of the more traditionally linear segments Rob tells her she can’t understand, can’t imagine. I can a little, she tells him. No, you can’t he replies. That horrible lurching sensation, you so desperately want to reach out, to be their strength and help them up, and you can’t and no matter how you try you don’t really know what they are going through, because you are not them and sometimes all the love and best intentions in the world won’t make any difference. Doesn’t mean we stop trying though. How could we?
The individual sections illustrated by different artists are often highly symbolic, drawing, literally, on the imagery of Rob’s own poetry. Between the art and the verse we’re in the world of symbols and metaphors as much as words (and we should never forget even then that words are metaphors themselves). In my years as a bookseller I’ve often heard people – shamefully including other booksellers – say “I don’t like poetry.” As if you can dismiss a vast and endlessly variable form of writing. Personally I’ve always loved poetry; much as I adore a beautifully crafted paragraph of prose, there are some things which verse is simply superior for articulating, and cries from the heart and soul are among those.
Good poetry doesn’t simply deal with the logic and structure of the narrative prose, it’s like music, it darts and moves and touches and stimulates, eliciting emotional responses and evoking imagery in the reader’s mind. To me that means every single person who reads these pages will form different takes on them, and that’s as it should be – this is a deeply, intensely personal work, both Rob’s beautiful, heart-felt poetry and Ravi’s crafting of her beloved brother’s words into a new artistic form, and of course it will stimulate different imagery and emotions in the minds and hearts of each reader. For instance, for me Mark Stafford’s art reminded me very much of Pink Floyd’s The Wall (the animation and the music and the film) and that feeling of loss of control, of others running your life, ostensibly for your own good and yet it felt like powerlessness and being dominated, unwillingly.
Sometimes the simplest touch can be deeply affecting – admiring Rhiana Jade’s beautiful art for the chapter “Of Zeus and Leda” the poetry dances and curves around and across the pages until just the final few words appear, just slightly outside the artwork, all alone on their blank, white margin, on the outside, looking in. “For in solitude I learned to repent the glory of stolen pleasure, and realise your happiness was all I needed to fill the emptiness” then the final part of the line “is it too late now?” on the margin. Such a simple technique but it spoke volumes of that desperate, urgent need to connect, love, share, and the awful abyss we feel opening as we fear that we simply will not have that, that there’s a wall between us and that most wonderful, simple and warm shared sensations with another. Simple and beautiful and moving.
Anchoring these more symbolic chapters by the different artists there is a continuing serial strip going year by year, illustrated by Leonardo M. Giron, interspersed between those chapters visualised by the other artists, documenting Ravi and Rob’s life over a decade of ups and downs in a more traditional comics style. The very first such sequence is quite upsetting, Ravi visiting her brother in an institution, the attempts to be cheery, upbeat, helped by a friendly orderly, but it all falling flat, the condition has him in a trough and the wonderful brother she loves is lost somewhere within, seemingly untouchable. Heart-breaking. Others see Rob striving to find some way to deal with his condition, to understand it and move through it, some show those simple, silly little moments between loved ones, the little nothing moments that really mean everything in the world to us.
Of course there can be no happy ending here – this whole work exists because of a life lived in struggle and ended before its time. But that’s not to say this work is a work full of endless despair, far, far from it. Ravi crafts a way to bring it to a conclusion which I won’t ruin here, save to say it has a certain bittersweet, happy-sad beauty to it that anyone who has endured lost will empathise with and quite possibly smile at (I did). And there is a certain joy, despite the subject matter, in both the art and in Rob’s poetry, not to mention the pleasure taken by a sister finally making her brother’s verse come to life in print, to be shared with other readers, released into the world as poetry should be (for poetry needs to be free range and roam among readers). It’s a beautiful, extremely personal, emotional, touching work, coursing through the contrasting tides of a troubled soul and can take it’s place on your shelf next to Darryl Cunningham’s Psychiatric Tales or Al Davison’s Spiral Cage.
Hoax, Psychosis Blue is available to order from Ravi via her Ziggy’s Wish site, set up for books that can support charities, while the stage production of Hoax, My Lonely Heart is showing from 4th to 7th June 2014, at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.
[See the original review on the Forbidden Planet website.]
The penultimate HOAX Psychosis Blues sneak peek comes from Bryan Talbot, with a detail from 'Blame'.
It was really generous of Bryan to give his time and reputation to this project. Having a big hitter amongst the list of collaborators has definitely had its benefits, opening a few doors along the way, letting the light come through and shine on some of the lesser-known names involved.
To me this is very important. Storytelling ought to be as inclusive as possible, but of course it can be very difficult to break through and be heard. Bryan has not only empowered the story with his contribution to HOAX, but has enabled others to do the same. Sheer class, all the way.
TWO HALVES TO THE WHOLE
I’ve been very HOAX-Psychosis-Blues focused in recent weeks, but of course the graphic novel is only half the story. The musical performance HOAX My Lonely Heart is the other half, and yesterday I met with Director Benji Reid for a ‘touch base’ ahead of our rehearsals, that begin next week.
It was great to catch up: to re-examine the story’s character, their motives and conflicts; to exchange ideas; to drink tea (the Cornerhouse does good tea) and generally laugh a lot. And as we chatted, I was stuck once again by the wonderful ways in which cross-media storytelling reaches out.
When I wrote the scripts for both book and performance, I wrote ‘space’, as I always do, into those scripts. That space allows for the story to grow organically within the structure, and gives every collaborator the freedom to really add to the whole. What was truly lovely, listening to Benji yesterday, was to hear about the ways in which this organic growth is now fully interweaving.
Thus poetry in the book translates to poetry in motion: sequential art in panels to sequential visuals on set; and of course the themes too… love, sorrow, pages of paper…. All these things bleeding and blurring, yet so utterly clear in their intentions.
To make reference again to Ed Brubaker’s ‘architect v. gardener’ point, where he says writers are one or the other, I really do think that a cross-media writer is both. You have to design the landscape, but you also have to know the traits of your plants, and make sure that you are providing for them. Allow the dahlia to blossom wherever it might want to, but at the same time not overshadow the tiny daisy pushing through.