Light touches, heavy themes

Last updated 13:38 03/07/2014

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A talented group of youngsters are battling the odds - including the potential loss of revenue from early ticket sales - to bring a powerful play to Nelson from tomorrow.

A musical about depression may sound like a weird mix, but it won a Pulitzer and three Tony awards on Broadway in 2010 and now a Nelson drama school is bringing the show to the Suter Theatre.

Actor and drama teacher Tami Mansfield, who runs the Off Broadway Performing Arts School, is directing Next to Normal at the Suter from tomorrow until Sunday. She says staging the show was her students' idea.

"They came to me and said ‘this is the musical we want to perform'," she says.

"They see it as important to share, especially in our culture - they want to show that people with mental health issues can get better. Other messages of the show are that no-one is alone, we all have problems, it's okay to talk about it - the cost of pretending is too high."

Mansfield says she's really impressed at the commitment and talent of her students and thrilled to have financial support from Nelson Mental Health Services with the cost of hiring the theatre. However, she says ticket sales are still to take off - and this has been compounded by Everyman Records going into liquidation this week.

"This is a great show, it does have heavy themes, but it's funny and the music is great," she says. "These kids are so talented it will be an amazing show . . . everyone is putting so much work into it, we really don't want people to miss it because we don't have money to advertise.

"Nelson has been very good to us since we moved here so I'm optimistic that people will come along and help us to make this show happen."

Next to Normal is about a couple who lose one of their children and can't cope.

Sixteen years later, daughter Natalie takes a self-destructive path due to her parents' neglect. She meets 16-year-old Henry, a "bit of a stoner" who shows her love for the first time.

Diana, her mother, has manic depression and their lives are consumed with pills, doctors and hospital visits; while Dan, the father, "protects" them from the conversations that actually need to happen. The result is shocking with some surprising and haunting twists.

Eighteen-year-old Natalie Davies plays Diana, a 43-year-old mother and wife suffering from bipolar disorder. She says the fact that something like this is being brought forward by kids is extremely powerful, and shows something of her generation.

"We brought this show to Tami because we wanted to deliver the message that it is okay to talk about things that are hurting you, and that you don't have to ‘drink a glass of concrete and harden up'," she says.

"We are saying that sweeping feelings under the rug doesn't have the desired effect and can hurt others as much as it can hurt you."

  • Next to Normal is staged by Off Broadway and directed by Tami Mansfield. The Suter Theatre, 7pm tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday, plus a 2pm matinee on Saturday. PG 13 is advised. Tickets at the door.

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- The Nelson Mail

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