Mental illness is slowly, but surely, beginning to be talked about. A few years ago, shows about mental illness at the Fringe were few and far between. Now, as the conversation about mental illness is beginning to be taken serious by society, with progress being made towards destroying the stigma, it’s becoming a topic of discussion in theatre too. STOP is an original musical by Annabel Mutale Reed and Leo Munby performed by Oxford University Drama Society. When four strangers meet at a bus stop, all with underlying mental health conditions, little do they realise that they’re at a crossroads for their lives and conditions, with their futures dependent on this one moment.
Where do you even begin with this fantastic production? STOP is a supremely powerful and necessary piece of theatre. Shedding light on a variety of issues in a bold and uncompromisingly honest look at mental health. Electric music numbers provide embellishment to a deeply moving script portrayed with pitch-perfect performances. The cast of four all excel, producing professional-standard vocal performances. Gemma Lowcock particularly stands out as the dorky, slightly dysfunctional Chloe. Obsessed with her revision and Harry Potter, with a personal character arc based around small victories, Chloe proves to be the most identifiable and sympathetic character, leaving you desperately trying to hold back the tears.
“a supremely powerful and necessary piece of theatre”
From the perspective of composition, STOP is stunning. Based around a distinct style and a few base riffs, the whole score expands out, producing a selection of unforgettable numbers with rich and luscious harmonies. A particular song near the middle of the production (you’ll know which one if you’ve seen it), gave me wave after wave of goosebumps. The music stripped away to leave a musically rich, but emotionally raw four-part acapella harmony in one of my most affecting and memorable moments this Fringe. There is a small issue with the script in that it sticks to a very rigid established structure. It works, without a doubt, but as soon as you work out how the structure operates, the remainder of the plot falls into place and I found myself predicting the ending almost half an hour before it happened. The remaining portion of the musical very much felt like going through the inevitable motions, but through interspersion of further character development and impeccable musical numbers, it remains interesting and entertaining.
Deeply moving and thoroughly life-affirming, STOP is an important and relevant piece of theatre. With a team of talented actors, writers and musicians, STOP is a brilliant piece of professional standard work from Oxford University Drama Society.
C south, 3rd – 28th August (not 15th), 14:45
Image: Oxford University Drama Society