Hello all! I'm an actress originally from Swansea, but have been studying in Glasgow for the last three years so am aware that suddenly lots of people have heard of Bridgend, that most probably wouldn't have a year or so ago. I think it's a very interesting idea to write about recent events but obviously also to explore what else happens in the town and how the media attention etc affected it.
I'm from Cardiff originally and as a teenager spent many mixed years living in Monmouthshire. So I'm not from Bridgend but I met the 4 great young people from Bridgend Youth Theatre who did a brilliant job of the Launch Skype last week. Some of them are on here... I will ask them to join this group.
Anyway, I think it's an interesting question about whether it's a good idea to write the play... my answer is a resounding yes. For many reasons. One is that I was living in London when the press was "reporting" on the events in Bridgend and I was always surprised by the lack of rigour and depth of feeling and investigation that came across with the sensationalised stories. I think for many people living outside of Bridgend, the town has taken on an unreal quality because of this. The second is that when I was younger, living in a semi-urban small-town place, I 'saw' an unreasonable amount of suicide. Some of these young people were my friends, some were school acquaintances and some were just drinking mates. But I have thought ever since that I have never seen a piece of drama or documentary that has explored "my" experience of this. When it happened to my friends, people swept it under the carpet and "reported" on the event like it was an abnormal act from a confused teenager. I have my own thoughts and theories about the people I knew but have never had a 'creative' space to talk or explore this, where I felt like I could really talk about such a raw issue and not have it hidden or blown up in my face. It is hard to examine because the experience is so awful for those who are directly affected but I think that your play could open up this space for a lot of people.
But what "has" been happening in Bridgend? NTW's main page blurb on Love says that your play may or may not be about the suicides. After such circumspection, it then goes on to describe what happened as an "unusual sequence of deaths". Yet the former press spokesman for the Bridgend Samaritans, Philip Irwin, wrote in the Guardian last year that the deaths were statistically unremarkable: "The sad fact is that 16 suicides among young people in Bridgend in 12 months is no worse than usual. There were 13 suicides by young people in 2007, and 21 in total. In 2006 the total was 28."
As someone who has had an experience of suicide in my family, I totally concur with Katherine's previous comments. The "suicide cult" that the tabloid media seized on appears to be an invention of their own imagination. It would be worrying if the play in some way ended up taking the media event at its own face value. Perhaps it might be more interesting to explore the relationship of the young people to their representations in the national (English?) press...
Gareth, that's a really interesting point. Bridgend Samaritans have obviously felt there was a situation they need to respond to, thus all their efforts to get volunteers out on the streets where young people can bump into them and be made aware of the Sams service. But are they responding to a statistically significant rise in suicides, or to a media frenzy about a non-existent suicide cult which they fear may itself encourage suicidal behaviour? I'll chase this up, and see what Samaritans say now about the actual numbers of people who have died.
hi, my name's nikki and i'm a theatre designer living in Ogmore Vale, Bridgend. like Hannah i grew up in Maesteg, which is another of the bridgend valleys. i was studying in london when the suicides went on and had to deal with a lot of jokes especially if i was going home for the weekend. Even after graduating whenever i returned to england to work people's instant reaction when i told the where i came from was "oh your from suicide town, is it really that bad?"
my answer was always no. i love bridgend and had my heart set on returning when i finished studying and found the portrayal of my home town in the press really depressing because it wasn't the town i grew up in. it was as if the reporters were applying a magnifying glass to any imperfections and not taking into account all the good things that go on.
i joined the group because i found the concept really fascinating and i would love to be a part of it. or at least come see it when it is on. ;)
Gareth's right in that I've been very circumspect about what this piece will actually be. But I can see even from my initial posting here, I haven't been careful enough. I wrote - Do you think it's a good idea to write a play about what's been happening in Bridgend? - and of course, reading that, it sounds like I'm going to write something that's about the suicides. Which is wrong.
Of course this project IS a response to the suicides in Bridgend. When John asked me to write something for NTW, I decided, eventually, to write something that would be put on in Bridgend where I grew up, rather than in Narberth where I was born, or Clynderwen where I spent a happy two years and had my first taste of the Welsh language, or Llanberis where I first lived when I left home, or Splott where I live now.
I agonised about doing a project in Bridgend for many months, until it came to me that a project that came about in response to the suicides, didn't actually have to be about the suicides. All I was committing to doing was - a play in Bridgend. And here are some things that play could in principle be -
1. It could attempt to tell the true story of some or all of the deaths by suicide in Bridgend. (Don't worry, it won't.)
2. It could tell the story of a fictional death by suicide, in the hope of uncovering some of the reasons why young people in Bridgend have taken their own lives. (It won't.)
3. It could not mention suicide at all, and be, as Gareth suggests, about how people are affected by representations of themselves and the place they live in the media.
4. It could be about ideation more generally - that's to say, the way our thinking is affected by what goes on around us. Sociologists observe that many different kinds of behaviour produce clustering effects - so, if there is one suicide in a community, there are likely to be more. But ideation can have a positive effect also - so for example, Bridgend (county) massively over-performs in terms of producing international level rugby players. Is that because of something in the water, or is it because young athletes see that people just like them have gone on to become Wales and Lions players, and they are encouraged to believe that if they commit to their sport they too can reach similar heights?
5. It could be a riotous comedy that has nothing to do with suicide at all - but that aims to 'respond' by just cheering everybody up.
Just to be very clear - it's not going to be option 1 or option 2. I think that to write a play that deals with either a real or a fictional suicide would be to contribute to the sense that Bridgend is 'the town where all the kids kill themselves', as I heard two girls on the X2 to Porthcawl saying. I've been studying Samaritans' guidelines to dealing with suicide in a dramatic context and I don't think it can be done responsibly in Bridgend. Also, as Katherine says, to write about suicide, however sympathetically, would be bound to bring up painful memories, and I don't want to do that.
So the play will be something else. It will respond to what has happened, but not by trying to tell the story of what has happened.
Hi my name's Laura and I live in Cardiff so have no connection to Bridgend per-say, however I moved to Wales around about the time it all started to get the media attention and remember just how huge it all was. I was also involved in a show that then went on to tour schools around Bridgend ('Long Way Down') which was centered around the subject of suicide. I think that because of these things, as you mention, myself and others who are not local do tend to associate Bridgend with teen suicide and so option nuumber three would be a really interesting play to see.
I've no connection to Bridgend, really, except that I used to change buses there on a Sunday night on my way to Llantwit Major, where I was teaching.
It's always interesting to see a new play by Gary, and I wonder what he'll come up with this time.