Interview: Peter Imms, Section 2

“People need to see something about this topic, and to talk about it – as long as you chat about it in the bar afterwards, that’s great.”

Section 2 is a new play by London-based playwright Peter Imms, which addresses the sensitive subject of mental health. It’s been developed in collaboration with Paper Creatures, an emerging theatre company founded last year by Jon Tozzi and Nathan Coenen, and will open in June as part of the Bunker Theatre’s Breaking Out season.

The play follows the story of Cam, who was sectioned 28 days ago, as he faces the review that will decide if he’s well enough to go home. “The play looks at the coping mechanisms that everybody has to find within themselves – not just Cam but everybody around him,” explains Peter. “It’s a really intimate and intense piece that clings on to the desperation that people feel when they’re thrown into a situation as drastic as this.

“It’s a subject that I didn’t really know about until half a year ago, and I think generally it’s something that people don’t know much about – there’s not many source materials for what sectioning is and the effects it has on people. I did a bit of research and found that it does happen to a lot of people, but there’s not really a conversation about it. So this play is a nice way to have that conversation, but also it’s just a good, gritty intense drama about four characters, all trapped in the same situation and trying to achieve the same thing from different angles.”

Peter was inspired to write the play by an unexpected personal experience: “Someone I knew was sectioned, and it shocked me because it’s one of those things that you think is never going to happen to you. So it came from visiting them and reading about other people’s stories – I guess I’m interested by things I don’t understand, so I did a lot of work into what it actually is and the technicalities of it. We also got in touch with Mind, the mental health charity, who have been amazing with information and feedback. They put us in touch with a lot of other people who’ve been sectioned, and then from that point the stories just began to form. So Section 2 has come from a place of interest, intrigue, lack of understanding and passion.”

The play began life as an idea and ten pages submitted in response to a call-out by Paper Creatures, who were looking for a new project following the success of their critically acclaimed debut production, Flood. “Paper Creatures are so good as a company because they’re not like anybody else – they’re all about collaboration and creativity,” says Peter. “When I went to them with the idea for Section 2, they liked what it had to offer in terms of potential, and from there we developed it together. We got the director Georgie Staight on board really early, and it’s been a constant soundboard with everybody involved. We’ve had R&Ds – we went away to Wittering together, which was romantic and lovely – just to explore it and play with it. It’s my favourite way of working; it’s been so nice to be in the room with people at the top of their creative game, to develop the play and test things out.”

That development process has seen the play go through some significant changes from its initial draft. “Between the first and second draft, the play basically completely changed,” Peter explains. “The first draft had this huge twist, but when we had a reading of it we all agreed that although it was great and very tense, it didn’t give us anything other than ‘it’s a twist’. So I went away and essentially re-wrote the whole play, still in keeping with exactly the same themes but I changed the structure of it a lot. It’s been hugely fun and explorative; they’re all so giving and so, so good, and for me it was a treat just to see them rip it all apart and put it back together again.”

As for Paper Creatures, Peter has no doubt they’re the perfect company to tell Cam’s story. “They’re advocates for new writing – I’ve never met anyone else who genuinely cares so much about new writers,” he says. “They go and see new work, they’re growing new artists all the time – and not just writing, they’re constantly looking to connect with new set designers, new lighting designers, whatever. They’re just so passionate about ‘new’, and they want to be pioneers of new work – so for me that’s fantastic because that’s what I am.

“But also the sensitivity that they bring to a subject like sectioning and mental health in general is absolutely priceless; they have a perfect balance of creative desire and the will to push everyone in the company to be the best, but also to honour the story that we’re trying to tell, and I think they marry the two really well.”

Section 2 will be performed as part of the Bunker’s Breaking Out season, which sees six companies perform in rep over four weeks. “The Breaking Out season is a great way for emerging companies to get on stage,” says Peter. “I hope it’s going to have a familial feel, especially for us as we’re always sharing the same night with the same company (This Noise), so I’d like to think we’re going to get to know them and it’ll be quite a community.

“Before I even knew it was a possibility I felt the Bunker would be perfect for Section 2; it’s got this gritty, intimate, almost – in a good way – dirty feel. The audience are encroaching on the show, and it’s like a fly on the wall situation. When I found out that we’d got it, I was delighted and now I can’t see it anywhere else. And the Bunker have been great in terms of help with marketing and outreach. For example we’re having some post-show talks involving the creative team, Mind, and people who’ve been affected by sectioning, so the theatre have offered us the time for that and helped us set it up.”

Originally from the Midlands, Peter moved to London when he was 18 to go to drama school. “I think a lot of playwrights either get into it from acting or from writing in some other form,” he says. “I was the acting route – I went to East 15 for a year, which was absolutely invaluable in terms of knowledge of the business and how stuff works. With that move to London I really discovered theatre, it was like a blast of everything that was new, so going to drama school for that reason alone was so integral.

“From that I realised I liked the production side a little bit more, so I started to work with screen, writing and directing short films, and that led into just writing those films, and that led into theatre, because I found I was more suited to the dialogue base of theatre than the visual base of screen. So it was just a slow transition until I found what I was right for and more comfortable with. Now it’s been three years that I’ve been solely writing plays and honing my craft – everything’s slow with writing, but I feel like I’m getting there.”

His top tip to other aspiring playwrights is to see as much theatre as possible: “See stuff you love, see stuff you hate, see stuff you’re indifferent about, see stuff you hate and find stuff in it that you like. I try and go to the theatre a lot; I just think it’s really important creatively. In terms of new writing, I love the Royal Court, and the Bush is a favourite for me at the minute, I saw Misty there a couple of weeks ago and it was incredible. In terms of smaller venues, I’ve seen some great things at Theatre 503, and I’m really close to the Orange Tree and haven’t seen anything I’ve not loved there, so that’s one that stands out.

“If I’ve got a bit of a block and something I’m working on isn’t really flowing, sometimes I’ll see something at the theatre and it’ll just change something in me – even if you just see something you love, it’ll inspire your writing. I think that’s the most important thing. And in London there’s so much here, especially in fringe theatre. That’s all I spend my money on, to be honest – that and beer! – but I wouldn’t change it.”

Book now for Section 2 at the Bunker Theatre, every Tuesday and Friday from 11th June-7th July.

Review: The Almighty Sometimes at The Royal Exchange

Guest review by Aleks Anders

The Royal Exchange over recent years has certainly changed its ethos in how they produce their main house productions; moving away from the comfortable, ‘bums-on-seats’ plays and musicals which were so much a part of this theatre company’s repertoire to a much more eclectic, boundary-pushing, rule-breaking, and therefore esoteric choice of productions. Even those that would traditionally be crowd-pullers, the Royal Exchange have chosen to go against the norm and challenge by cross-gender or colour-blind casting etc. So it was no surprise at all when they announced that the next play in their season was to be a Bruntwood Prize winner which tackles adolescent mental health.

The Almighty Sometimes by Kendall Feaver is a beautifully written and superbly observed piece of writing. It is honest, no punches are pulled, and yet there is great humour in there too, which serves to heighten and highlight the tensions and problems that mental health raises, especially when it concerns minors. Director Katy Rudd is right; it is one of those scripts which once you have read it you simply know you have to direct it!

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

In the world premiere production of this powerful and challenging four-hander, we see not only the inner struggles of a now 18 year old girl coming out of adolescence into adulthood, continually questioning her own mental state, caught between the perhaps unanswerable question of “what is me and what is my medication” syndrome, but we also see how her relationship and trust in both her mother, her boyfriend and her psychiatrist changes and develops over time. Her now rather fragile relationship with her mother begs questions like “Could she have done differently for me?”, “Why did she have to tell the doctors everything?”, “Was my mum or doctor always acting in my best interest?”; “What will happen if I don’t take my medication?”, “What will happen if I don’t take the doctor’s advice?”, “Did I even have a mental illness in the first place?” Indeed these same questions are being asked by her mother too, and the see-saw of their relationship is played with great passion and skill. She has been seeing the same psychiatrist since the age of 7, and they have built up a bond that could perhaps under other circumstances be called friendship; the compassion and understanding versus professionalism and correctness is played again with great understanding.

Norah Lopez Holden, no stranger to The Royal Exchange, is utterly superb as Anna, the teenager with hundreds of questions and no answers, her mood swings and her demeanour superbly measured. Another familiar face on the local circuit is Julie Hesmondhalgh playing Renee, Anna’s mother, whilst Mike Noble plays Oliver, Anna’s only real boyfriend / friend, and psychiatrist Vivienne is Sharon Duncan-Brewster.

To be honest, and without trying to sound sycophantic and gushing, the acting from all four is excellent; the chemistry between them is real, and their emotions and responses, electric.

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

I do have something less positive to say though. Obviously this is only a personal reaction, but I did find that the lighting and sound detracted and misled, rather than adding and complementing. I felt very much as if I were watching a suspense thriller or similar where the background music in the film draws you in and conditions your emotional response. It was the same here, both the sound and lighting used throughout the play conditioned our emotions and told us exactly how we should be feeling and emoting at any particular point, rather than letting the wonderful words and acting affect us, each in our own way and in our own time.

The play doesn’t try to give answers or solutions to this ever-growing and contemporary issue; nor does it try to understand the problems, but with much humour and honesty simply lays the facts bare and leaves it up to the performers, director and audience to grapple with the issues in their own way. I am certain every audience member will have left the auditorium this evening with a different understanding and response to what they had just witnessed; however, what was abundantly clear was that we were all in agreement of the fact that it was exceptionally well presented by four consummate performers, and the subject was intelligently, sensitively and sensibly treated .

Certainly one of the best plays I have seen at The Royal Exchange for a long time, and a real gem of a play with a story that absolutely needs to be told.

The Almighty Sometimes is at The Royal Exchange until 24th February.

Review: Happy yet? at the Courtyard Theatre

“Why can’t you just be happy?” asks one of the characters in Katie Berglöf’s debut play, Happy yet? To people who’ve never lived with depression or anxiety, they can be difficult concepts to understand – particularly, perhaps, in Sweden, which is famous for being one of the happiest countries in the world.

Enter Torsten Sandqvist. He’s nearly 40, unemployed, and living in his brother and sister-in-law’s attic room in Stockholm. For as long as anyone can remember he’s been writing a play, but between staying in bed until 3pm and going out with a new girl each night, he’s not getting much work done. As his family grow ever more frustrated, the only person Torsten can really talk to is his young niece, Nina – but she never goes to school, and nobody else seems aware of her presence…

Inspired by the traumatic personal experience of losing her uncle to suicide, Katie Berglöf has written an enlightening, often troubling but just as often unexpectedly humorous depiction of what depression looks and feels like from both sides of the story. The most important lesson we learn is that depression doesn’t necessarily mean you’re miserable all the time. On a good day, Torsten is hilarious, wildly optimistic and everyone’s best friend (at one point, he convinces a police officer who’s come to arrest his brother to go drinking with him instead). Unfortunately he also can’t stop lying to make himself look good, and after one crazy scheme too many, it’s no surprise his brother’s patience is starting to wear a little thin.

A charismatic David Beatty does a great job of navigating Torsten’s highs and lows, in a world that tries its best but never quite gets to grips with what it’s like to be him. This world is represented by Piers Hunt, Molly Merwin and Lucinda Turner as his brother, sister-in-law and girlfriend, who clearly love him and want to help but have no idea how. The play aims to explore the impact of mental health issues not only on the individual but also on those closest to them, and is careful to make clear that Torsten’s family are suffering too. In fact, the only entirely unsympathetic character in the play is the mental health professional who aggressively questions Torsten about his problems, but offers no answers – unless you also count his unseen parents and other siblings, who we learn rejected him long ago for what they saw as his weakness.

It’s a shame that the play’s ending leaves a few too many unanswered questions – particularly surrounding the ever-present Nina, played by Minnie Murphy. It’s obvious from the start that there’s more to their relationship than meets the eye, but the (almost) complete lack of clues as to how or why she became Torsten’s confidant is a bit frustrating, and I found myself waiting for a revelation that never came.

Even so, the play’s message and intention come through loud and clear. It’s so important to keep talking about mental health, and Happy yet? plays its part by offering a very personal insight into one family’s struggle to find an answer to an unanswerable question. In particular, the play challenges the misconception that happiness is something which can be turned on or off at will, and encourages understanding instead of judgment. And if it feels a little unfinished, that’s okay – this is, after all, a conversation that’s far from over.


Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉

Review: Window at the Bread and Roses Theatre

In a world of reality TV and social media, it’s all too easy to fall into the habit of obsessively observing other people’s lives, and then comparing them to our own. In Ron Elisha’s Window, this voyeurism reaches new heights when married couple Grace and Jimmy spot their neighbours having sex, seemingly at all hours of the day and night.

It all begins as a bit of slightly naughty fun, even helping to rekindle the dormant sex life of the exhausted new parents. But when Grace falls pregnant with their second child, her interest in the young, beautiful couple across the way – in her mind, an earlier version of herself and Jimmy – starts to develop into an unhealthy obsession that affects her work, health and family life.

Photo credit: Greg Goodale

The two-hander play deals sensitively with issues of pre- and post-natal depression, with Idgie Beau giving a strong performance as an increasingly distressed Grace. Charles Warner is equally impressive as Jimmy, whose initial amusement soon gives way to concern for the wellbeing of his wife and baby, balanced against his frustration over her neglect of their family. Although there are moments in the story of their relationship that feel unlikely, the actors’ portrayal of it is entirely convincing.

Covering five years without ever leaving the couple’s bedroom, it would have been easy for scenes to run together, but director Dave Spencer breaks up the action with costume changes and brief musical interludes, while references in the script keep us up to speed on how much time has passed. Even so, things do start to slow ever so slightly towards the end, as the subjects of Grace’s obsession go through a personal crisis, and she dissolves again and again into panicked tears on their behalf while Jimmy tries to console her. It’s only when she finally takes action that the cycle is broken, and Grace’s recovery can begin – a moment that’s beautifully played by the actors but in terms of plot development feels a bit too neat, given all that’s gone before.

There are a few other moments where we’re required to suspend our disbelief in order to make the story work: the fact that the neighbours would never, in five years, consider closing the curtains or turning the light off, for instance; or that given the ever more blatant gawking from Grace and Jimmy, who can clearly see every detail, the other couple would never notice them. But that’s what makes the play such a perfect metaphor for social media – by putting our lives on display, we effectively open the curtains and allow anyone to see in. We know they’re there, and we kind of like it that way… but providing others with free access to our everyday lives means they inevitably see the bad as well as the good.

Photo credit: Greg Goodale

The situation in which Grace and Jimmy find themselves is one that the vast majority of us will never need to deal with (or let’s hope not, anyway) – but that doesn’t stop Window being highly relevant to a generation that’s as addicted to sharing as we are to observing. Although it could use a little more pace towards the end, this is an entertaining and unsettling new play that will definitely make you think twice about leaving the curtains open.


Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉

Review: Eyes Closed, Ears Covered at The Bunker

In Alex Gwyther’s thriller Eyes Closed, Ears Covered, two teenage boys bunk off school and go on an adventure to Brighton. It’s obvious from the start that the two friends have a complex and potentially unhealthy relationship – and when something terrible happens on the beach, it falls to two frustrated police officers to try and make sense of the day’s events.

Much like the officers, the audience must piece together the clues to work out the real story behind Aaron and Seb’s day trip – and when the final piece of the jigsaw slots into place moments before the play ends, the truth turns out to be as shocking as it is satisfying. I love a well-written thriller that really keeps you guessing, and this play definitely falls into that category.

Photo credit: Anton Belmonté of 176 Flamingo Lane

Many of the characters in Derek Anderson’s production feature only as Big Brother-esque voiceovers, which means all our attention is focused on the story’s three leads. Danny-Boy Hatchard takes control in the first act as Aaron, who’s the mastermind behind the adventure. Outgoing and often very funny, he can also be unpredictable and aggressive when things don’t go his way… and he wields a disturbing amount of power over the naive and socially awkward Seb.

Act 2 abandons the police station and is carried by the excellent Joe Idris-Roberts, who takes us back in time to explore the tender relationship between ten-year-old Seb and his mother Lily, played by Phoebe Thomas. As well as answering a lot of the questions posed by Act 1, this part of the play also leads us into increasingly dark territory (there’s very little laughter to be heard after the interval), touching on themes of domestic violence and mental health as it paves the way for the story’s dramatic conclusion.

A simple set proves no obstacle to the storytelling, with some impeccably timed movement (directed by Jonnie Riordan) helping to build a picture of the characters’ surroundings, and Norvydas Genys’ lighting design keeping the action moving between locations, as well as back and forth in time. There’s also a great moment at the beginning of Act 2, when Lily replaces a photo of herself, appearing on stage as if by magic.

Photo credit: Anton Belmonté of 176 Flamingo Lane

There’s just one niggle for me about the play, namely the decision to set it in the 1980s. This isn’t particularly borne out by the story (I remember just one popular culture reference to Tom Selleck as a relevant movie star), and putting 30 years between the events of the play and its audience suggests they have no relevance today – when in fact the opposite is true.

That said, this is without doubt a compelling and well executed piece of theatre, which grabs our attention from the start and never loses its intensity. With three brilliant performances and a dramatic twist ending, this dark thriller is well worth a visit.


Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉