Play denounces stereotypes about mentally challenged people

The cast of Madness: Songs of Hope and Despair, which is being staged at the Baxter Theatre.

Mentally ill people across the country are often ridiculed, undermined and some even abandoned by their families.

In many cases they are abused and described as insane. However, a musical play titled Madness: Songs of Hope and Despair, being staged at the Baxter Theatre, in Rondebosch, is aimed at denouncing the senseless abuse faced by these vulnerable members of our community.

Dr Sean Baumann’s play will run from today, Thursday February 9, until Sunday February 19.

With the country still battling to come to grips with the shocking news of the death of 94 mentally ill people who died in Johannesburg, the show hopes to change the negative perception people have towards them.

The 94 patients had been moved from the Life Esidimeni health care centre to NGOs where they died from neglect or the NGOs not having the capability to care for them.

Dr Baumann is a senior specialist psychiatrist in the department of psychiatry and mental health at UCT and a consultant at Valkenberg Hospital.

The concept of the show arose from a concern that the plight of the seriously mentally ill is either ignored or misunderstood, and that contributes significantly to their suffering.

Tenor singer Monwabisi Lindi, from Khayelitsha, who is the main actor, said the show solely attempts to be the voice of those deemed insane and it truly reflects the real challenges that mentally ill people grapple with every day.

He said mentally ill people are treated like outcasts and are seen as people who do not have emotions. He said their dignity and integrity as human beings are undermined.

He said the play challenges people to put themselves in the shoes of mentally ill people in order to understand their challenges.

Lindi said the show details some of the circumstances which lead to mental breakdown and illness. He adds that as African people there is a myth that if someone is mentally ill it is because of witchcraft.

He called on community based organisations and other stakeholders to host awareness campaigns to promote and protect the rights of mentally ill people. The show consists of nine cast members who play different roles such as doctors, nurses, traditional healers and psychiatrist.

They also include sopranos Linda Nteleza, Palesa Portia Malieloa, altos Nolubabalo Mdayi, Fikile Mthetwa, Vuyisa Jack and Siphesihle Mdena and basses Lungile Halam and Ebenezer Sawuli Madoda.

Talking about his character, Lindi said he portrays a young man from the Eastern Cape who is ambitious and has dreams of being an architect.

He then moves to Cape Town to study at the University of Cape Town. But shortly after he graduates he begins to be tormented by voices in his head telling him that he is mad.

Asked about the challenges of portraying such a character, Lindi said it was not difficult.

“The show takes you on a roller-coaster of emotions and it will surely keep you at the edge of your seats. It truly reflects the challenges of being a mentally ill person and it depicts how they view the world.

“We need to not belittle other people irrespective of the illness they have because we don’t really know their story before they become sick,” he said.

Another cast member, Nolubabalo Mdayi, also from Khayelitsha, shared the same sentiment, saying people who are mentally ill need to be treated like anyone else.

She strongly believes that there is a need for such shows and people who live in the township should watch it in order to better understand the real challenges of those who suffer from mental illness.

The play uses a combination of music, both live and some recorded, song and visual imagery in an attempt to portray the complexities of the worlds that mentally ill people find themselves in.

Dr Baumann’s libretto is brought to life through music composed by Galina Juritz with Dizu Plaatjies, conducted by Chad Hendricks and directed by Lara Foot. Fiona Moodie integrates her own artworks with that of work by patients of Valkenberg Hospital, with video design by Koeka Stander and lighting design by Patrick Curtis.

The small orchestra is made up of musicians Matthijs van Dijk and Galina Juritz (violins), Sarah Evans/Asra Isaacs (viola), Luke Otto/Robert Jeffery (cello), Graham H Strickland (upright bass), Gene Kierman (French horn) and Zeke Le Grange on saxophone.

Madness: Songs of Hope and Despair will be staged nightly at 8pm with Sunday performances on February 12 and 19, at 6pm. There is an age restriction of 14 years. Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to Cape Mental Health and Friends of Valkenberg.

Tickets cost R150. Book through Computicket. For discounted corporate, schools or block-bookings, charities or fundraisers, contact Sharon on 021 680 3962, email sharon.ward@uct.ac.za or Carmen on 021 680 3993, email carmen.kearns@uct.ac.za