Mental health issues top list of social topics in 2018 Fringe shows

A play looking at the complexities of living with depression is just one of a number of shows focusing on social issues that are being staged at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

A Clown Show about Rain uses physical theatre to explore depression. Picture: contributed
A Clown Show about Rain uses physical theatre to explore depression. Picture: contributed

New analysis has revealed that around one in four performances due to take place during the international arts festival deal with topics such as human rights, equality, immigration, environment, health and poverty.

Mental health is the most-talked-about issue, featuring in 42 shows, while 29 look at women in society and 11 at the #metoo campaign.

Shows about social media have increased from one in 2017 to 12 this year, while productions looking at abuse have risen from 11 to 19.

However, the latest programme features fewer shows about LGBT issues, falling from 38 last year to 25 in 2018, and plays looking at refugees, human rights and prison have also gone down.

The analysis was carried out by the SIT-UP Awards, which encourage audiences to take action if they are affected by work they have seen on stage.

The research found 235 of the 966 shows – 24.3 per cent – coming to the Fringe in August relate to social issues. This is an increase since last year, when 22.3 per cent of performances dealt with such subjects.


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“As theatre reflects society, we did not find it surprising that mental health headed the list, given that everybody knows someone with mental health issues,” said Changing Ideas charity founder David Graham, who conceived the SIT-UP Awards.

“Theatre can play a crucial role in highlighting the many issues that society faces today. The arts provide an excellent platform to act as a catalyst for change.”

As the National Health Service celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, the programme also includes five productions looking at the institution.

Two shows focus on the role of young carers and others consider issues such as bullying, loneliness and addiction.

Alice Millest, co-founder of charity theatre company Clean Break, added: “We have become almost numb to the sterile facts and figures we read about in the media or hear on the news.

Empathy for strangers can only be built through connection and experience.


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“When theatre is at its best, an audience is captivated by a story and lives it alongside the characters. Through this experience we build compassion and a desire to do something to help.”

The SIT-UP Awards, new to this year’s Fringe, will announce a shortlist of six productions during week two of the festival, with the winner announced in the third week.