Survival is magical

Jameson believes that theatre has given him the strength and humour to survive
mental illness.

it wasn’t for theatre, I would neither have fallen ill nor recovered. This
force has a healing and harming effect. Shakespeare’s Macbeth gave me confidence
and nightmares. My fears were turned into poetry and this I have benefited from
ever since.

But ask a man to play a raving lunatic with
method acting and you are asking for trouble. It is so close to the real thing
that it becomes the real thing – madness takes over. I must act to fulfil
myself. But I mustn’t act if I am to retain sanity. This paradox is resolved by
taking the whole thing with a pinch of salt.

Art isn’t or should not be desperately
serious, however serious the detailed preparation. In my youth I saw everything
in black and white. Acting was the most important thing in the world. Real life
hardly counted.

So I found myself patrolling the streets of
London making (or so I thought) a film. Great fun, but utterly barmy. My dream
world had taken over from reality – a classic case of schizophrenia. That lapse
has earned me a label for life and a treasure chest of benefits and social
care. I am actually a human being like you or anyone else.

Theatre teaches us such a lot – quick
thinking, courage in adversity, looking on the bright side, team work. It is
all such tremendous fun.

My own play Is It A Crime To Be Happy? goes
into the matter in detail. Fifty per cent of what the actor feels in a merry,
lively musical rubs off on the audience. Can you imagine what I actually felt
as the hero in the play Italian Straw Hat at the Oxford Playhouse? It was
indescribable, warm, funny, therapeutic, hilarious. I would have gone on to the
Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith, west London, if theatre had not made me ill.

Magic shows since then have given me a reason
for living. My own show starring me – wow! Colour, comedy and the arch
deception we call magic. Miracles before your very eyes. There is no difference
between acting and magic. The magician has a few more props, but we are all
trying to suspend your disbelief and give you a good time.

I haven’t had an illness for 30 years: I put
it down to show business. Those who are suffering mentally or physically seem
to have the guts to survive. The image of the gallant trouper grinning his way
through all kinds of hardships is very true: it certainly reflects an attitude
to life which might well be adopted by everyone.

So don’t despise or envy the actor or
magician. Realise his sufferings and sympathise. Whenever possible take part in
his life thrilling performances. They take you out of yourself and you may not
see what a difference you make to every evening. You go to see the show, the
performer for you, the new audience.

It is all in the mind, where illness lurks.
But so do great triumph, joy and happiness. I may have lost 15 years to
insanity, but I have gained a lifetime of priceless memories. I am not finished
yet. I intend to perform till I drop and prove that show business is far more
therapeutic than calamitous.

Richard Jameson is a mental health service

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