A new play exploring mental health and systemic racism is coming to Theatre Deli Sheffield
Issues of mental health and systemic racism are at the very core of a brand new production coming to Theatre Deli Sheffield.
‘Freeman ‘- heading to the city fresh from its sold out debut at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – was inspired by the first American to plead insanity as a defence.
The award-winning show, which is currently on an International Tour, is a collaborative work between Strictly Arts, and writer Camilla Whitehill. in association with the Belgrade Theatre, and the Pleasance. Camilla previously wrote Where Do Little Birds Go? and Mr Incredible.
Throughout time and across waters, the team behind Freeman threads together the stories of Freeman, David Oluwale, Sarah Reed, Sandra Bland, Daniel M'naghten and Michael Bailey to show how these factors combine in the US and here in the UK.
The controversial lives and deaths of these real life protagonists also highlight why it is necessary for movements like Black Lives Matter to exist in the 21st century.
When Strictly Arts began making Freeman in 2016, there were 120 self-inflicted deaths recorded in prisons across the UK - the highest number on record.
The company began looking at the parallels between today’s society and past incidents. Government statistics in 2017 showed that there were 31,350 people in prison who, at any one time in the UK, had reported having poor mental health issues - 37 per cent of the average monthly prison population. Yet, only 7,900 prisoners were recorded by NHS England as having received treatment for mental health illness during March 2017.
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Artistic director of Strictly Arts, Corey Campbell, said: “As an individual who has been a victim of racial profiling, wrongfully accused by the justice system, with friends and family who have suffered from poor mental health, and as a member of the black community myself, the statistics and information we found are both relevant and frightening.
“To think that William Freeman’s story, from as far back as the 1800s, can still be an example to us today shows that we are still in dangerous waters.
“At Strictly Arts, our mission is to turn conventional theatre on its head. We aim to create and revisit theatre that inspires all races, creeds and cultures to explore and embrace the differences or similarities we have through the power of live performance.
“The one thing we always talked about when forming this company is that everything had to have a purpose. We had to give back to the communities that raised us. It was all about the arts and how we could use that to benefit other people. Another important factor was our desire to unify people from all different walks of life to show the differences in cultures, but that ultimately we all strive towards the same things and the differences are interesting as opposed to threatening.”
Freeman features a mix of high-energy physical theatre, gospel singing, shadow puppetry and powerful drama to create an extraordinarily moving and affecting experience. It asks the question: ‘History is bound to repeat itself when the thumb is permanently bearing down on the loop button, so has anything really changed?’
Freeman will run at Theatre Deli Sheffield from May 16-18.