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MAC Interviews: Viv Manjaro, director and writer of 'Close to the Edge'

Fri 22 November 2019

Close to the Edge is about abundance in crisis and struggling to adjust to change.

Francesca’s life was happy and full. In a blink of an eye, her debts are soaring; her health is flagging and her heart is ailing. Desperately trying to hold mind body and soul together Franki takes a job as a Cleaning Lady; a role for which she has no credentials, except obsessive compulsive disorder.

 Close to the Edge uses humour and pathos to look at the serious issues of diminishing resources and limited opportunities for an older black woman. This one act play raises questions about strategies for survival and rising above adversity. We interviewed writer and director Viv Manjaro to find out more about this riveting project. 

Give us a little back story...

In 2003 I founded Planet Arts Social Enterprise Group when I was living in Gloucestershire, and the focus of the enterprise was to create and perform pieces that stimulate thought. Exploring issues that have gone unexplored, breaking the taboo and encouraging different cultures to communicate with each other is what I’ve strived to do through performance. In 2011, Close to the Edge grew out of this goal.

So you’ve performed the play before?

Yes! For the 2011 TUC International Women’s Conference, in front of about 200-250 people. Back then, I wrote the play, produced it and acted in it – which was way too much! However, I always knew I wanted to take it further and this year I know I want it to be better: to do it with excellence. We have funding for a producer (Shine Duggal), another actress (Sharon Jone) and a script consultant (Lorna French) which means we can research it further, extend the range of topics within it and largely re-write it! We’re also using the play as a starting point for running focus groups and workshops surrounding its themes.

You have been utterly involved in the play from every angle. What’s it like giving away your baby?

Oh, it’s wonderful to give away one’s baby. It’s certainly been challenging, but I always knew I wanted to really develop on this. I think backing off from the actress role has been the most difficult – it’s hard to let Sharon explore the character with the full wealth of her talent with me being so close to it. As director of a one-woman show, it’s also mostly just me and her during a rehearsal session – they never go any longer than 5 hours or we’re totally shattered.

Which role (actress/producer/writer) do you feel is most personal to you and your experiences?

The actress, without a doubt. There are aspects of this play that are certainly autobiographical.

Do you think the reception of the play in late 2019 will be different to how it was in 2011?

I do think some people will think we shouldn’t be saying what we’re saying. I feel exploring that unfashionable side of suffering that has been caused by financial problems is unpleasant and trying to deconstruct the myth of the ‘Strong Black Women’ by showing that older, black women are also susceptible to mental health issues is something some people find difficult. I think we’ve come on during the last few years in addressing the issues of ill mental health in black men, which is incredibly important – but I think it’s time we start asking ‘what about the women?’ However, I do hope that we have moved on a little and that any outrage felt in 2011 will not be felt as strongly now.

Which audience would you like to come and watch the play that hasn’t seen something like it before?

The play is primarily targeting older, black women. However, I strongly believe different people need to know how to relate to each other. Whilst this certainly doesn’t apply to all white or black women’s experience, I think there is a culture that imposes it is allowed for a white women to speak out publicly about her mental health whilst it’s unacceptable for a black women to do so, and it’s important this is dispelled.

 I would also really love for practitioners in mental health, and those with a particular interest in wellness to join the audience. The play explores different coping strategies for when you’re mental health is spiralling. Some people turn to traditional medication, some people see counsellors, some people go to homeopathy and herbal medicines, some beat up a cushion! The exploration of coping strategies was not in the first production of the play and I’m so pleased we’ve had the chance to expand on it.

Close to the Edge will be showing on Tuesday 3 December at 7.30pm. Grab your tickets here.