The fragile nature of masculinity is a recurring theme in a lot of my writing. However, I’ve wanted to write a play specifically about male mental health and male friendships for a long time. Those relationships and the brittleness of the male psyche provide the central themes of ‘When We Were Brothers’.
I lost a good friend of mine to suicide when I was in my late twenties. He was a few years older than me and was, in every way, a classic ‘alpha male’ – good looking, a talented sportsman and someone who could handle himself in a fight, which goes for a lot of people I grew up with. Outwardly, my friend was confident, assertive and funny. However, since he died, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what was going through his head in those last few hours. I’ve also never been able to shake the image of his mum at the funeral.
I first developed a clearer idea of the character dynamics in ‘When We Were Brothers’ about 18 months ago. I was at a music festival and a song came on that reminded me of my friend. It made me start to think about various friendships I’ve had growing up. And about how uncomfortable some of my male friends are when it comes to talking about their feelings or showing vulnerability.
I’ve started asking myself just how comfortable I am about showing vulnerability myself
During the time I’ve been writing this play, the subject of men’s mental health seems to have been talked about more and more in the media, which is definitely a good thing. As a writer, I’d say it’s something I probably find easier than most. However, as I’ve been writing this play, I’ve started asking myself just how comfortable I am about showing vulnerability myself. And the answer is I’m probably not as comfortable as I thought I was.
Even though the play deals with difficult subject matter, I’ve really tried to make sure it isn’t depressing. I wanted to write a play that celebrates male friendship and those brilliant relationships that lots of men have, where we basically tell our mates that we love them by insulting them and making fun of them.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve also started to realise just how common it is for men to express fear or sadness through anger or violence. I wanted to write a story about two friends who both learn to address that in themselves, but at different times and in different ways. For one of them, it’s a matter of life or death.