A community drama group featuring a mature all-male cast will perform across the borough during Mental Health Week.
Lambeth’s Older Men’s Drama Group formed in March and is comprised of twelve over-50s, many of whom face mental health difficulties.
Performances will take place at five locations, including Brixton, West Norwood and Streatham libraries, from 14th – 18th May as part of the Lambeth Readers and Writers Festival.
The project is the brainchild of Vauxhall-based arts development practitioner Tony Cealy, 54, who secured backing from the Lambeth Wellbeing Fund.
Tony said: “I have completed a lot of intergenerational work in Lambeth over the last 4-5 years, specifically around Windrush projects. I was taken aback that I didn’t get enough men to be involved.
“I thought I will definitely do something this year to encourage more men and applied to do a project around men’s wellbeing and mental health. I knew I was on to a winner.”
Rehearsals have been taking place on Tuesday afternoons at Brixton Youth Centre for the past ten weeks.
Tony said: “It’s been an amazing journey and I’m honoured to be in this space with these men.
“They have really come out of themselves and formed a lot of pathways over the weeks for connection and support. Particularly the guys who have been experiencing loneliness, suicide and isolation.
“It’s reopened my whole intention about what this project is. The men have felt comfortable to share emotions and not be ridiculed.”
Tony enlisted performers through local organisations and by visiting Lambeth’s pubs and bookmakers to appeal directly to men, with the oldest recruit being 81-years-old.
Group member KG Lester is a trained actor who has run poetry, drama and writing groups in Hackney.
KG said: “I saw this opportunity as a good way to get back into performing as I had lost my passion.
“As a black male I was offered a lot of negative acting roles, like the drug dealer or the yardie, which is why I had fixed my focus on writing.”
Age UK found that nearly half of adults over 55 have experienced mental health problems and other studies have highlighted depression, anxiety and suicide being prevalent among older men.
The play will tackle these themes and be followed by an interactive workshop and panel discussion.
KG said: “It’s about destigmatising the words ‘mental health’ and attaching something to it that isn’t negative.
“It has been therapeutic being part of this group and being able to open up with the other performers and share our stories to a wider audience. I am emotionally touched, it feels like an ad hoc family.”
Fitness instructor and group member Willan Shombe, 50, of Streatham is a former dancer and has found the weekly practices to be a positive experience.
He said: “The rehearsals have been amazing. The way Tony works is really good – he lets the group lead the process, there is no filter or time constraints and he lets it go where it needs to go.”
Willan is looking forward to the opening performance on 14th May at Brixton Library.
He said: “I am used to performing and I’m excited but a bit nervous which is normal. It’s been a long time since I have done anything like this.”
“I am just going to do the best I can with my fellow actors and see what we can produce!”
Tickets and a full listing of the Lambeth Older Men’s Drama Group performances can be found here