In recent years, we have found ourselves talking more often about the importance of improving mental health and removing the unfair stigma associated with conditions like depression. Yet there are still some subjects that we struggle to discuss; one of them being the rising number of male suicides. In Fragile Man, David Martin and Richard Miltiadis attempt to start a conversation about this “silent epidemic”, and how the solutions offered by society can fall short.
Fragile Man has a powerful opening, with an unnerving soundtrack piercing through the silence. The sound of glass ringing and window blowing immediately put the audience on edge, much like Miltiadis’ unnamed figure as he slowly prepares for his own death. Standing above the audience, looking at the imaginary drop below him, Miltiadis’ excellently expresses the unbearable emotions one can only imagine those contemplating suicide face. That said, his reaction to Martin’s arrival and the loss of control within the suicide, is even more remarkable. It is the mix of fear and shock in Miltiadis’ character that maintains the tension between the two characters for the majority of the play.
There is certainly a personal touch behind Fragile Man. Martin’s previous experience as a mental health worker allows us to see various true stories come together in this harrowing piece. Admittedly, this occasionally puts Fragile Man at risk of becoming melodramatic; the various circumstances that bring these two men to the cliff-top are one too many. One traumatic experience would be enough to push some people over the edge, yet Martin’s script foregoes this simple realism in favour of a more dramatic plot.
It is here where the play begins to crack, as the dramatic plot undermines the play’s intention to enlighten us on the serious problem that is male suicide. Throughout the play, we are ricocheted back and forth between past and present. Again, there is thought behind this, for the flashbacks allow us to see how the two men found themselves standing together on the cliff’s edge. However, these flashbacks within the play are both too frequent and at times too short, disrupting the present action and subduing the suspense. Furthermore, Miltiadis plays a number of different figures in these surfaced memories, with little distinction between the various characters. The mysterious nature of the two men – whose lives are dissected, at a painstakingly slow pace – often leads to confusion regarding what is the truth or deceit. The climax of the play is undoubtedly dramatic, however is predictable – it seems like the confusing revelations are to prevent us from guessing the end too quickly.
It is unfortunate that these creative decisions take away from Martin’s admirable intention to draw on as many experiences from previous patients as possible.
Be that as it may, Fragile Man is brave in acknowledging that the support at hand is not always enough. As Martin’s character urges Miltiadis to move away from the cliff’s edge, Miltiadis acts out against Martin’s need to talk things through. He mercilessly disregards the other treatments on offer, including anti-depressants and taking up a hobby to distract him from his anguish.
Moments like these highlight the many elements within Fragile Man that should be admired. David Martin has done well to broach the taboo subject of suicide and its drastic effect on the male population; however Fragile Man proves we still have a long way to go.
theSpace on the Mile (Venue 39)
Until 26th August
Photo credit: Sammy Pea