In a Nutshell...
Richard Crowe is an actor and writer living and working in Somerset in the UK. His most recent production, Over the Wall Picking Apples, previewed in the West Country in autumn 2018 and toured between September 2019 and January 2020.
The play is Richard's response to a recent diagnosis of bipolar and is both a powerful and comical exploration of life with a mental health problem.
Richard is currently working on a musical version of the play, Bipolar:The Musical, with the fabulous composer, Andy Collyer. Scratch performances of the show, with BA Musical Theatre students from University Centre Weston, were postponed after the imposition of lock down in March 2020. It's hoped these can now take place in October.
Richard was also running Theatre Nights, a series of scratch performances and rehearsed readings of new work by Somerset Theatre Makers at the Redbrick Building, Glastonbury, when Covid-19 struck. He is now working with Wassail Theatre Company, Strode Theatre in Street and Somerset Film on an online version - Theatre Nights Digital Edition.
Richard is also about to facilitate/edit a collaborative theatre writing project, Alternative Endings, a series of six commissions charting Somerset's response to Covid-19.
Somewhere in between all this, Richard is keen to continue work on his new play, Spitzer's Owls.
Over the Wall Picking Apples
What's That All About?
In the Beginning...
WASSAIL Theatre and Richard Crowe present Over the Wall Picking Apples
Happily married with a lovely house on the Somerset Levels, Richard could have settled down to life as a withy weaver, cider maker or llama farmer. But then the fish tank started singing to him –the same song over and over, day after day. It was enough to drive him mad.
This is the story of Richard’s response to all this: his admission into the mental health service, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, medication (the highs…the lows) and making sense of a lifetime lived over the wall picking apples.
Join Richard on his emotional roller-coaster as he squares up to the frightening, the furious and the funny sides of mad.
REVIEW - October 5, 2018 - by Trish Wheatley
Richard Crowe was born a disappointment; he should have been born female. This female self, complete with name already picked out by his parents, introduces us to the show as a flight attendant delivering a safety talk. The performance unfolds with a smattering of anecdotes and scenes that shift between dark moments and light-hearted comedy.
Through these scenes we hear about Crowe’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder, his fears, medication, stories of friends, ideas of masculinity and suicide. I got the impression that many of these stories had emerged as a result of talking therapy, which was confirmed in the post-show discussion. It was made clear though, that this is theatre, not therapy.
There are plenty of autobiographical one-person theatre shows about the lived experience of mental ill-health or related conditions. The performance sets itself apart from others of this ilk by the quality of writing, acting, directing and even venue booking. The quirky Lyric Theatre in Bridport provided an appropriately-sized intimate space. On entrance, a programme and trigger-warning sheet were handed out, evidencing the care and thought that has been put into the needs of both audience and creative team.
Sometimes with shows about personal reflection, I come away thinking that the artist wanted to make sure you can never truly understand it unless you go through the experience yourself. Whilst that is ultimately true, I felt that Crowe’s intention was to show the reality of his experience in a raw, unfiltered way to achieve the most understanding possible in his audience.
The way he developed characters and swapped between them, particularly in the darker moments, was expertly performed. The voices and phrases that were employed through these sections felt familiar and real in a way that got closer to the experience than any before.
In one scene, Crowe demonstrated the experience of synaesthesia through music playing when he touched furniture. This playful moment descended into confusion and sensory overload, with songs overlapping. The on-off music as he touched the furniture didn’t quite match up and I was left wondering whether this was a technical fault, or if the inconsistency was playing on the unreliability of the mind.
Throughout, Crowe punned his way through as much mentalist language as possible for good comic effect and an underlying dig at the way society uses words like ‘mental’, ‘mad’ and ‘nuts’ too freely and without consideration. The writing and inference throughout made the point well, without the need for the angry little aside about his growing intolerance for people using language in this manner.
I was grateful for an ending that was not characterised by being ‘fixed’ or ‘better’, but rather reinforced that this is everyday life and it’s not going away.
The post-show discussion covered the self-care elements of writing and performing work that draws on lived experience. For example, Crowe is mindful not to book two consecutive nights to perform. He also talked about building in layers and degrees of separation to protect himself from the work. What really worked in this case, was that protective separation was not at all evident in the writing or the performance.
Over the Wall Picking Apples is a brilliantly written and performed show, that gets to the heart of so many aspects of mental health. It also creates an excellent route into starting a conversation and Samaritans are present at each performance. Once this has grown and toured it will be interesting to see where a future production might take us in exploring what living with the condition throws up in everyday life. I think Richard has material for life should he wish to continue creating work in this vein.
TO BE ANNOUNCED POST COVID-19 LOCK DOWN
WHY EVERYONE* SHOULD SEE OVER THE WALL PICKING APPLES
I won’t bore you with the statistics. By now, we all know about 1 in 4 of us will suffer a mental health problem at some stage in our lives.
What we don’t know, possibly, is the impact that might have. Not just on us, assuming we’re the sufferer, but on the people we live with – our families, our friends, our colleagues.
They might see us suffer (they might not: some of us are gregarious, natural clowns, very good at putting up barriers, which isn’t helpful). They want to understand, to support, to help. But it’s difficult, isn’t it. How the hell can they know what’s going on in our heads?
I was 54 when the bottom fell out of my world, literally. I spent most of my waking hours thinking of suicide and most of my sleeping hours dreaming about it. Didn’t want to talk, didn’t want to get out of bed, didn’t want to eat. Just wanted to die.
Then, at 56, I was diagnosed with bipolar. Devastating. But also, a relief. At least now I knew I had something. A reason I had felt out of kilter with the world all my life. Something I could Google. Something I could share with my family, my wife. Like statistics, lots of statistics:
80% of people with bipolar will contemplate suicide, 50% will attempt it and 15% will succeed. That’s roughly 30 times higher than for the general population.
The problem was how to make sense of all that. Not just for me, but for my family, my friends. And if I could do that for them, why couldn’t I do it for other people too? For the thousands of people in this country who have first hand experience of living with mental health problems as a sufferer, a carer, a relation or a friend?
I’m a lucky guy. My background is in theatre, as a writer and performer. My duty – and I did see it as such – was very clear. Pick up your pen and write. If you can discuss this with your children, you can discuss it with the world. And that’s what I’m doing with Over the Wall Picking Apples, having an ongoing discussion about mental health, how to cope with it, how to live with it, how to laugh at it.
I’m not an expert. I don’t have all the answers. All I offer is a few insights, the highs, the lows, the rage, the laughs (there’s a lot of laughs, you have to laugh, life is funny). It’s also, I think and I’m told, a good piece of theatre in its own right.
And that’s why you should come – all of you. Because you never know when it might happen to you, your partner, your child or your friend. You never know when your next laugh will be. And you can never have too much good theatre…
*In this case, ‘everyone’ means everyone over the age of 14
The play contains strong language, multiple references to suicide and material of a sexual nature
A trigger sheet is available in advance from https://www.wassailtheatre.co.uk/over-the-wall-picking-apples should you need to prepare for potentially traumatic episodes in the show
Members of The Samaritans are in attendance at every show and our programme signposts local sources of support
Every performance concludes with a post-show discussion with the writer/performer and director or producer of the show
to be announced post Covid-19 lock down
Richard's Mental Health Minder
Thanks to Paul Blakemore for the photographs on this site, please don't reproduce them without express permission
Thanks also to the Samaritan volunteers who are in attendance at every performance helping to safeguard both our audiences and our team