ON the morning of September 1, 1997, following Edinburgh's annual Fireworks Concert by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, when we learned of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in a car accident in a Paris underpass, a senior figure in the arts in Scotland said to me: "Thank goodness it didn't happen during the Festival." I know that seems appalling callous, but really it was heartfelt and searingly honest. More than that, it was eerily prescient. Because just a few hours after the People's Princess had succumbed to her injuries we had no way of knowing just how epic the outpouring of public grief was to become, and how the reaction to the tragedy – as much as the actual deaths – would dominate the agenda and exclude some work by musicians and other artists from public exposure because some coincidental, and often tangential, element was deemed to be disrespectful or likely to cause offence. Several days later I visited the impromptu shrine that had sprung up at Kensington Palace in the company of the wife of a journalist colleague and was perplexed and confused by the scale of the memorial that had been built and the public display of grief by the people there. When I said as much to my companion, she huckled me away pronto, fearful that I'd be lynched, but as a theatrical spectacle the Kensington shrine is branded indelibly on my mind.
When Prince Harry spoke about his mental health difficulties as a result of losing his mother at the age of 12 this week, the most quoted reaction came from Simon Wesseley, head of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who said: “In just 25 minutes he has achieved more good than I have in 25 years.” Sincerely meant, I am sure, but equally certainly untrue, unless Wesseley attained his exalted position fraudulently. Of course the prince has been unanimously praised for rejecting the "stiff upper lip" model of British reserve that the Royal family epitomises and talking openly about an issue that many people have difficulty discussing, but to extend that to making him a confessional role model for young men, among whom depression is rarely acknowledged and suicide is the most common cause of death, is stretching the point a bit. The 12-year-old Harry not only had to cope with the death of his mother after the very public and messy end of his parents' marriage, he then saw his personal grieving utterly out-played by that of his grandmother's subjects; small wonder that he did not try to compete but bottled it up as he'd been taught. That the "Clown Prince" did not go completely off the rails, or worse, is the more remarkable fact. His experience is so utterly unique that to parallel it with less-well-covered mental anguish of those his charity, Heads Together, aims to help, is an error of scale that might actually have exactly the opposite effect. Not his fault, so much as it is a lack of judgement by a well-meaning media perhaps.
David Leddy's new one-person play Coriolanus Vanishes, which premiered at the Tron this week, is a psychological thriller which might have sat very comfortably indeed in the programme of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. Leddy's very clever, and often blackly funny, script takes us into the head of his protagonist in skilled incremental steps, unravelling the character's back story as it probes his mind, carefully wrapping the personal up in the more broadly political. Even more specifically linking it with the testimony of the prince a few days earlier, Leddy draws explicit parallels between the moral ambiguities of international diplomacy – a topic handily snuggled up to Harry in the headlines – and the demands of parenthood, dysfunctional families, and the passing of destructive character traits down the generations. In Shakespeare's play, it was of course the mother of Coriolanus who had despatched him to fight foreign wars.
For all its theatrical flair, the Tron show cannot have the reach of one famous young man's podcast, but there are more universal truths to be found there than in the admirably open attitude of someone with access to and resources to acquire the very best of psychiatric help when he realised he needed it.
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