Addressing men’s mental health can be seen as a taboo and an uneasy challenge – but with “What He Said”, Pique Niche Theatre Company have managed to tackle these issues in a compelling and dramatic way.

The event, on November 19 at the Casa Bar Theatre, was a collection of four plays, with the inclusion of an extra monologue from the company’s new project “What She Said”, which was an extremely promising showcase of what’s to come.

L-R Robert Smith, James Lawrence and Rob Keyes performing Both Parents Matter written by Mark Davoren. Photography by Anthony McAloon
L-R Robert Smith, James Lawrence and Rob Keyes performing “Both Parents Matter” written by Mark Davoren. Photography by Anthony McAloon

“Both Parents Matter” began the evening with an eclectic array of characters. The stark differences in the four fathers began a thought-provoking conversation around the complexities of child custody.

All actors spoke to the leader of the support group, an imaginary figure positioned off stage in the audience to allow the characters to deliver their lines directly out.

This technique meant the audience felt welcomed into the discussion without a break of the fourth wall. Each character’s backstory was compelling and the sparse staging of only four chairs on the stage brought more focus to the actors who performed each of their roles with passion.

John O’Gorman shone as the Major in “Twister”, the second play of the night, written by Ian Gray. His character had real depth and he was not afraid to use silence in his favour with brilliant pacing of dialogue.

The play felt like a slice of real life

Out of the four scripts, this felt like the strongest interpretation of men’s mental health with its focus being on PTSD. This play took risks and gripped the audience with dramatic changes in tension and emotions throughout.

Christopher Smalley as the Guard was also a notable mention in this “good cop bad cop” piece. He complimented John’s performance with a multifaceted and at times, witty relationship between the Guard and the Major.

The Major’s declining mental health throughout was clearly defined at the end of the piece. Highlighting the Major’s PTSD by showing him relive his trauma using costume was a risk which, although it confused a few members of the audience, I believe paid off as it shocked the theatre and added another element to the illness.

“Now or Never”, written by Donna M Day, began the second act. The beginning of the play felt like a “slice of real life” with two men speaking at the pub.

The script and delivery felt very natural and believable with honest and wholesome confessions around one mans sick son. It was fast becoming my favourite play of the night, until the “big reveal”.

The man who left the band to take care of his pregnant wife found out his child belonged to his ex-band mate who had become rich and successful. This story line felt somewhat cliched and the dramatic staging no longer felt entirely correct to be taking place in a local pub which hindered the believability.

The line, “We were just kids” was repeated throughout by the cheating friend as his excuse. This helped to justify the level of anger but when the main character kicked his chair across the stage it felt slightly unnatural and forced.

Overall, the plot felt like it stole the focus from the real aim of delving into men’s mental health issues.

Paul Taylor performing Pillow Talk written by Ste Mc. Photography by Anthony McAloon
Paul Taylor performing Pillow Talk written by Ste Mc. Photography by Anthony McAloon

The final performance of “What He Said” was a monologue called “Pillow Talk” written by Ste Mc. The writing cleverly used the pillow as a vessel for thoughts to be shared with the audience.

Paul Taylor played the role of Steven and had the hard task of keeping the audience engaged throughout the one-man performance.

His performance was believable and heart-felt with a clever use of child-like delivery of certain lines to show Steven’s lack of emotional maturity despite his age. This was a skilful way to express the lack of opportunities men have to talk about their feelings and highlighted the work that needs to be done to make men feel more comfortable about sharing their problems.

“Younger” was a captivating and authentic monologue which was written and performed flawlessly.

Liz, played by Geraldine Moloney Judge, was a humorous and warm character who discussed issues that women tend to keep quiet such as infertility.

The execution of light, comedic moments in this piece put the audience at ease whilst ensuring the sensitive issues were not ridiculed. I am excited to see what more is to come in the new performance of “What She Said”.

Overall, the whole performance achieved its aim and left the audience more aware of issues surrounding men’s health. It was also an enjoyable watch which showcased some impressive writers across the North-West.

Star rating: 4 out of 5 stars

  • “What She Said” will be performed in April 2023


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