You enter The Cage to find a group of lads mucking about in the performance space, classic Manchester tunes blaring and apparently loving life. Amy Guyler’s Digging Deep, however, quickly snatches away this facade when Mossy (Kyle Rowe) reveals that he wants to kill himself; he’s spent a long time thinking about it, and almost gone through with it, but realising the horrific funeral costs he’d leave for his mum to deal with has kept him alive. Until now. He’s tired of life and so determined to get himself out of it that he comes up with the idea to fundraise for his own funeral – his friends Matt (Jonny Green), Kane (Matthew Woodhead) and Jack (Josh Sinclair-Evans) aren’t thrilled at the idea, but go along with it because it’s what their mate wants (and in the hope that they might just get him to change his mind).
Jack (the kind of mate you’d always turn to in a crisis) leaps into action, coming up with idea after idea: 5-a-side football matches, skydives, a sponsored back wax… Their initially rather modest online giving page suddenly spirals out of control, with Mossy’s story going viral and vox pops appearing on international news reports – what started out as a considerate (if foolhardy) idea takes a darker turn, with Mossy questioning if this was the right way to do things after all.
Whilst the male suicide rate in the UK is at its lowest point for over 30 years, men are still three times as likely to commit suicide than women – and young men are particularly vulnerable as an age group. Mental health continues to be a hot topic in theatre, and Just Add Milk is supported by Lambeth Council & CALM for this production at the VAULT Festival 2019. They are even coupling the production with some outreach, providing information about CALM’s services on the way out of the theatre, so if you do need to talk then please approach the team after the show.
The play itself completely knocks you off your feet. For the most part it’s a dark comedy; the funeral fundraiser idea provides a wealth of material, and the running joke of the “Keeley Jar” for whenever Matt mentions his girlfriend is particularly funny. The way the campaign turns into a kind of bucket list adventure and something of a bonding experience for the four pals is great fun, and actually quite heartwarming despite the reason behind their exploits – it gives you hope that maybe they’ll hit upon a way to help Mossy work out what he needs to stay alive, rather than simply supporting him through this plan.
There is a great dynamic amongst the cast, portraying four lifelong friends who have stuck together through thick and thin. Green shows excellent comic timing in response to Matt’s constant teasing, Sinclair-Evans puts up a bright & bubbly front as Jack gets things done, and Woodhead is brash & confrontational as the least convinced member of the group – as Mossy, Rowe gives off an air of disillusionment at life, as well as a determination to follow through in his chosen course of action. The sense of brotherhood from the four comes through just as strongly as the play takes a more sombre tone – the regret and despair are palpable.
My verdict? A surprising, funny & moving play that shows the strength of community and friendship, as well as the importance of taking time to talk – a must-see.
Digging Deep runs at the VAULT Festival until 24 February 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.