Seven and a Half Years

Mark Glentworth-book, music and lyrics
MMG Music Productions
Salford Arts Theatre, Salford

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Seven and a Half Years
Seven and a Half Years
Seven and a Half Years
Seven and a Half Years
Seven and a Half Years

Music, we’re told, has charms to soothe a savage breast. However, in terms of mental health, the healing power of music is debatable. Research has shown it can lessen the impact of depression and anxiety, yet musicians are three times more likely to experience anxiety or depression than the general public, and 73% of independent musicians struggle with mental illness.

The experiences of percussionist Mark Glentworth seem to refute the theory music has healing properties but confirm the problems experienced by musicians. After a mental health crisis, Glentworth is hospitalised, given what sounds like some pretty crude therapy (including electroconvulsive therapy) and medication. Leaving hospital, he becomes incapable of socialising and cuts himself off from family and friends for Seven and a Half Years, leaving his house only to buy sarnies (his only nutrition) from the local shop, which he can endure visiting as it is in sight of his dwelling.

Mark Glentworth is a graduate of Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music, composed one of the most performed percussion pieces of all time and collaborated with theatre artists such as Berkoff and Gielgud. Yet in the years he was shut-off from the world, he did not play or listen to music. Some traumas it seems are just too great for music to heal.

Although the issues which traumatised Glentworth are not identified, director Julia Stubbs uses a hectic opening to give an indication of the high-pressure lifestyle which preceded his breakdown. Stubbs behaves as if directing a full cast, not a sole performance. Glentworth interacts with recorded voices on the telephone, and gradually, the messages shift from demands for work to be completed urgently to expressions of concern at his apparent decline in appearance and health. Glentworth’s withdrawal from the world is shown in a simple but effective manner of covering his on-stage musical equipment in storage sheets.

However, rather than address the audience direct as in a monologue, Glentworth communicates his feelings by way of song, recalling ruefully how a child who fantasised about being a superhero is reduced to cowering in his home. Having finally managed to leave his house and seeking a medical assessment of how badly his physical health has declined, Glentworth allows an edge of his old impatient attitude to creep in, playing a fast scat tune as he waits for his results. Glentworth is a superb musician, and the score is complex and demanding. When he pays tribute to his father, who preferred basic country and western music, the tune is definitely not simple C&W.

Seven and a Half Years is a self-lacerating play. Glentworth does not spare himself, cringing in embarrassment at his behaviour and hating the way he is causing distress to others. The event that sets him on the path to recovery is so mundane as to make one want to protest "oh, come on!" whilst acknowledging sometimes simple answers are the most effective.

Seven and a Half Years is an honest depiction of the complexities of a mental health crisis which does not spare the author but does have songs.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

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