How theatre is helping create conversation about mental health: An interview with playwright Mark Daniels on his new play Coronavirus-A Great British farce.

After being met with such incredible audience reactions and reviews, playwright Mark Daniels’ show Coronavirus – A Great British Farce, based on his own diaries from lockdown, is coming to The Garage in Norwich on the 18th November.

Could you start off by telling me about the play itself?

So, it’s a comedy, it’s surreal, absurd, theatre. It’s weird. It’s about a guy called Joe who is on his own in a flat in lockdown, and in the first scene there’s another character on the stage who is called Speaker. You assume she’s a politician as she’s on a podium at one of those press conferences, and Joe begins to answer back to her, and she starts to answer back to him. You’re not too sure at the start but it descends into this surreal conversation, it goes into complete gibberish, for the audience it’s really funny but for him it’s quite stressful. It is satirizing the media we have today.

The relationships between mental health, creativity, and lockdown affected everyone differently but was there any particular moment or event that sparked your ideas?

I really struggled at the start. I had work to keep me going, but for true creative work that I love doing, I had a real blockage. What kept me going was the rest of the creative industry, some people were finding ways to make things online and putting out briefs for competitions. That’s where this play started. This theatre company wanted ten-minute plays written in lockdown,  so I went and opened my diaries and started from there. It was other people in the creative industries supporting each other that got me through. 

Despite the comedic tone, there are obviously some difficult themes explored. Would you say that this play does seek to engage people in questions around mental health and being mindful of how things can affect us?

Definitely. People really did take both sides of it. There’s a clearer message in the darker bits that this guy is struggling, because he’s on his own. He gets more addicted to the media, the information, the paranoia, because he doesn’t have any other distractions. There’s a clear theme of loneliness and how that can impact somebody, which I think a lot of people have a much bigger appreciation for. We’ve partnered with a charity called Campaign to End Loneliness. At the end of the show, we have a speech to make that link to the mental health issue clearer, and to use the play to do something bigger than to just entertain people.

The Arts have always played an important part in asking questions about mental health, but post-lockdown how do you think this dynamic has changed?

I think it has made it even more important. Not overlooking the way things can impact mental health is something the Arts can really help with. Watching a play, listening to a piece of music, all of these things are really nice ways to enjoy something. Because it’s an enjoyable experience you can then subtly bring up a deeper message without people feeling like they’re being lectured about it, people are much more open. It’s a really nice way to open up these conversations.

Finally, are there any messages that you would like people to take from the play?

I think it’s that we’ve all been through this surreal experience and it’s worth acknowledging it and not pretending it didn’t happen, and a great way to do that is through laughter. It can be very cathartic to laugh at these situations and then that can open up some really interesting conversations with the people around you.

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Sophie Colley

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May 2022
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