Losing her brother Philip to suicide left Helen Wood with a shocking sense of impotence that couldn’t be shaken away. The questions outnumbered the answers and the guilt of not having done enough haunted her for over thirty years, whilst her parents refused point-blank to talk about him.
Only after her mother’s funeral did Helen’s father briefly mention a note that was found with Philip’s clothes – he had taken them off on the roof of a tower in Birmingham moments before jumping to his death, when he was just twenty-seven. Her father never said what was written on that note for as long as he lived, leaving Helen with possibly an even stronger need to understand. “Why did you do that?”, she shouts in anger to Gregor Hunt – her stage companion who’s playing all the accessory roles to the narration, including, occasionally, her brother Philip.
Unravelling the last months of his life – with the help of some letters sent to his wife, the coroner’s report and the faint recollections of his closest friends – Helen tries to understand what she could have done to help him, whether her actions would have made a difference. Letting those memories resurface in an attempt to find closure is a visibly painful exercise that she faces with the gentle resignation of someone who’s already tried everything. She talks about their childhood and shows us pictures of happy times together. Her willingness to share this with an audience is humbling for all the courage it must have taken.
It is likely that Helen has found some degree of peace by honouring the memory of her brother and we can hope that many people who are grieving for similar reasons will find relief in witnessing her journey. It’s only in recent years that awareness on depression and suicide have become a talking point, trying to erase the sense of shame that silences those who are suffering, as well as their loved ones. As expected, there are many red eyes in the audience when the lights go up, following the reminder that talking is always the right thing to do.
Let’s Talk about Philip was developed in partnership with and supports SoBS, Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide, the only national charity providing peer support to those impacted by suicide loss. Volunteers are standing outside the auditorium with a bucket for donations and more information on their work can be found on their website at https://uksobs.org.
Written by: Helen Wood and Gregor Hunt
Directed by: Derek Bond
Produced by: Helen Wood and Something for the Weekend
Let’s Talk About Philip plays at The Pleasance Courtyard until 28 August. Further information and bookings here.