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On The Edge Of Me: Interview with Yolanda Mercy

Image by Yoshi E

We catch up with Yolanda Mercy, who’s taking her one-woman show, On The Edge of Me, to Bristol’s Doing Things Differently Festival. We chat about mental health, unemployment, and the importance of recognising theatre as an agent for change and conversation.

Culture Calling: How did you develop the idea for On The Edge of Me in the first place?
Yolanda Mercy: I started developing the piece after seeing a lot of theatre and realising there was a gap, in the sense of stories around me that weren’t being reflected on stage. So I thought, why not?
CC: How did the collaboration with Jade Lewis, the director of your show come about?
YM: We met years ago on the Young Vic’s directing course. We started a conversation about how I wanted to write a play. A year later, I contacted her and said, “You know that play I wanted you to direct? Here it is!” It kind of just happened…and she really liked the script. That was the first piece I ever really put on myself. It’s great because we’d both never done it before, we were still learning together and we worked really well together.
CC: How do you prepare for the role of Remi?
YM: Remi’s quite a challenging character because she has to go through this massive arc from being really energetic to being quite low. Before a show, I tend to just shut down. I’m completely silent but I listen to upbeat music to get to that high energy point. I spend time bouncing on the spot, starting to do little pieces of the play by myself, just to get myself really in the mind-set of Remi. It’s about the energy, which she has a lot of, so I have to really push myself at the beginning to be larger than life. When your character has that much energy, it can become easy to get tired towards the end, so it’s about making that impact at the beginning.
CC: Your play incorporates a lot of humour, but it still explores the dark subjects of mental illness and unemployment. How do you navigate that balance between making people laugh and making people cry?
YM: I didn’t actually write it with the intention to be funny. I genuinely thought I was writing a serious drama but I’m not a very serious person, so it naturally ended up being funny. I just write from truth and real experiences. I try to keep it as honest as possible. Quite a lot of shows I’ve watched about mental health tend to play up to the stereotype, rather than play the actual truth behind what that is. I feel that some plays portray the topic of mental illness, whereas I like to think I’m portraying the character.
CC: What’s your favourite aspect of the show?
YM: Interacting with the audience because it makes the show different every night. Theatre is generally different every night, but audience interaction really keeps me on my toes and allows my to improvise.
CC: That must be pretty nerve-wracking.
YM: I think it depends on the group you’re in front of and where you are in the country. Some places are more up for it than others. I won’t ruin too much, but there’s a section of the show where I have a conversation with an audience member. Some people will give one-word answers and others will speak for minutes on end. I like that they get so into having a conversation with Remi, they forget it’s actually a scripted theatre piece.
CC: So what do you want your audience to take away from the experience?
YM: Mainly, I want my show to prompt people to keep having those conversations and breaking down those barriers and taboos about unemployment and mental health issues. It’s crazy, because when I first wrote the play a year ago, there was nothing about mental health issues and now there are so many shows out about anxiety, or depression and so many about mental health issues in general. It’s great because it means there’s a vital need for these conversations. We need to have more in a way that actively supports those affected by it. I want something tangible to come from it.
CC: But what if we don’t live in Bristol…
YM: I’m going to be performing in Derby as well, which will be recorded. I think that’ll be a good way to end the tour. With so many shows out there about mental health, I feel like On The Edge of Me has done its rounds, so now would be a really comfortable place to take a step back.
CC: Speaking of stepping back, you mentioned earlier that you were working on a new show. What’s next in store for you?
YM: After my final show in Wolverhampton on 13th October, I’m going to have a mini-break, then get back to making work. I’ve just received funding to make my new show, Totally Under-prepared. It’s supported by ARC Stockton, Third Angel and Ovalhouse Theatre. So it’ll be straight back to the drawing board for me.
CC: Any chance of a sneak peek on what’s the show about?
YM: The piece is about the millennial issue of having a quarter life crisis. I’m going to use more audience interaction because it works so well. Overall, it’s going to be a bigger theatrical experience. People who’ve seen my work will see it as a progression. It’s starting to develop a voice of its own and it has to be based around real people and real experiences.

Yolanda will perform On The Edge of Me as part of Bristol’s Doing Things Differently Festival on Friday 16th September, 7:00pm. Book tickets here.