After its success at Camden Fringe Festival, Between a Man and a Woman plays the Etcetera Theatre in Camden. Cindy Marcolina catches up with writer Scott James and actor Millin Thomas:

On a suspiciously warm mid-October Saturday morning, I caught up with Scott James and Millin Thomas while they were rehearsing James’ Between a Man and a Woman for its current run at Etcetera Theatre in Camden. The show, which sees Thomas as its leading man, tackles mental heath and abuse, much like Thomas’ Camden Fringe hit show Serotonin, which he wrote and performed.

They weighed in on the journeys of their plays, Weinstein’s scandal, and what it means to write and perform such intense and personal pieces:

Scott: I trained at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance as an actor, where I specialised in musical theatre. I’ve always written as a hobby, but I’d never imagined doing it as a career. I decided to put on a show one day, Millin came and auditioned for us and we became close mates. We were working with such intense material and in such close proximity that it sort of forced us to be close at the beginning.

Millin: I trained at East 15 Acting SchoolI started writing my play Serotonin about two years ago, but, just like Scott, it was more like a hobby at the start and I was doing it for the fun. Then I spoke to Rowan Jacobs, our director, about it and it suddenly happened.

Between A Man And A Woman by Scott James

Tell me about the genesis of the two plays – Between A Man And A Woman and Serotonin.

Scott: I remember watching Eastenders when I was about 8 years old and there was a big domestic violence storyline. I had grown up in a loving and caring home so I’d never seen anything like it and it stayed with me. I then saw a documentary on domestic violence – the victim’s sister was trying to get back in contact with her. That story stuck with me so I worked with it.

Eventually last year I did a very horrible acting job and I was feeling really bad about myself, so I thought I’d give writing a shot – I had nothing to lose.

Only now I realise how much writing really helped me

Millin: Serotonin is loosely based on my own life, exaggerated and dramatised of course. It was something I felt compelled to write because the mental health crisis is currently so  relevant, not just from my own experience.

Poetry is my writing escape and it has been for a long time

The most difficult part about depression is that you can understand it and you know all the scientific & medical ways of helping, but when you’re in that state it doesn’t matter. None of those things matter. Ultimately it comes down to love, support and connection, those are the only ways that can help. Having learnt it the difficult way, I thought that it was an important message to get through all the nonsense of society.

Serotonin by Millin Thomas

They’re both personal and intense shows, how does it feel to bare it all out?

Scott: I found it very therapeutic. Even though I’ve never directly suffered from domestic violence, I have people who are very close to me who have. In some ways it’s indulgent – you’re indulging in your life and in your experiences, but there’s something good in seeing something you’ve gone through being performed on stage.

I suffer with bipolar disorder so I’ve also borrowed the whole mental health side of the piece from that. It’s freeing to see a subject that you believe in lead people to discuss the issue.

If it speaks to only one person, I think we’ve done our job right

Millin: I’m proud of myself, it was a horrible time that I went through. I wanted to use the experience to my advantage. It felt quite releasing – in a way I was letting go of those times. I acknowledged that it happened and that it got me here; now I’m grateful because it helped to shape who I am.

I wanted to bring out how men don’t get an outlet. They don’t feel that they can express themselves and talk. Serotonin substitutes talking and connection with drink, swallowing thoughts in a glass. It’s a difficult life if you’re not connecting to other people around you and you’re hiding from the world with liquid poison as a way of coping every day. Alcohol is a big part of our culture and whether they’re alcoholics or not, people have a dependence on it. It’s a way of trying not to deal with feelings, it’s a temporary way of not having to deal with emotion.

We grow up believing we need to be a certain way and we’re shooting ourselves in the foot

Scott: There’s still so much to be said and done in the world of gender stereotypes. Men should be strong; men should be brave; men don’t cry; men don’t break down. People are wired differently and, as a man suffering from bipolar disorder, I’ve always been lucky to be surrounded by people who don’t believe in those stereotypes. But some don’t grow up in that environment and there’s still a strong stigma attached to men being men.

MillinYou can also say that in regards to the Weinstein scandal finally getting attention – that type of behaviour is a crisis in masculinity, it’s too far the other way. Cultural and social expectations mean that men either have to adapt to it or steer away from that and suffer.

(Image courtesy of Robert Piwko)

You both treat really relevant themes in your plays. Do you think shows like yours might make people speak out, especially now with the Weinstein scandal going on?

Scott: I hope so. Between A Man And A Woman isn’t a light and fluffy comedy, it’s something that’s happening now and it’s insidious. I’ve read a lot of first-hand accounts of people who have abused others and they had nowhere to go afterwards. There’s no aftercare given – most abusers come from a previous experience and a lot of it is learnt behaviour. 

I don’t think anyone is born like that

What are your next projects after this run of Between A Man And A Woman?

Scott: I’ve written a play called Fucking Life, Mate about growing up on a council estate in South-East London. It deals with the housing benefits system & the benefit trap; teenage pregnancy; what it means to be gay in such an area; how you can manoeuvre your way into coming out in a world where gender stereotypes and social norms are still strong. It’s running at The Bread & Roses Theatre from 27 February – 10 March 2018. We’re also going to work on Between a Man and a Woman again next year.

Millin: I want to keep doing Serotonin, I feel like we haven’t done it enough. I’ve also been loosely writing a play looking into homelessness, a similar kind of thing to Serotonin – one setting, few characters, and poetry. I think that’s my style now!

Homelessness is a big issue right now, we keep seeing it all the time and it pains me. I want to get it out there and try to help show that people aren’t just fuck-ups but victims of society.

 

To read more about Between A Man And A Woman, which plays the Etcetera Theatre until 5 November 2017, follow the company on Twitter (@JamesArtsPro) or visit the website – www.jamesartspro.com

To read our previous review of the production, click here.