A lifesaving conversation

Where the River Meets the Sea by Sergio Roveri at the Bridewell Theatre in London, Reviewed by Aisha Walker.

Marcelo runs down from the bridge with a look of despair on his face. He heads toward the footpath and leans over the edge. As he contemplates jumping into the river, he’s interrupted by Apollonio, who sits a few metres away. Apollonio tells him matter-of-factly that if he waits for the tide to rise, the current will carry him away rather than his body crashing into the rocks. So begins a lifesaving conversation between the two men.

We learn Marcelo’s backstory; he met a cute guy at a party and after a magical few hours they drive away together. His lover dies in the ensuing car accident and Marcelo is riddled with guilt and love lost. While the play only offers a snapshot into Marcelo’s life, my work in psychology has taught me that a single traumatic incident would not be the sole factor in Marcelo’s trip to the footpath. Suicide is complex and other risk factors like mental distress, physical health conditions, unemployment and isolation can also play a role. Additionally, research – see, for example, Illan Meyer and David Frost on the health of sexual minorities – indicates that minority stress like homophobia/biphobia lead to worse physical and mental health outcomes in LGBTQ+ people.

I first notice Apollonio as we enter the theatre to find our seats – he’s already on the footpath working on his trinkets. He’s ignored by much of the audience, who walk by with drinks and carry on their conversations until the lights go down. This felt symbolic of the way homeless people like Apollonio are often ignored in society. He’s an interesting character, whose initial pragmatic approach to stop Marcelo jumping into the river is later supplemented with a spiritual perspective. He talks to Marcelo about crystals and astrological signs, before delving deeper and reading him passages from the Bible. Apollonio demonstrates the different ways people find purpose and meaning in life.

Something else that struck me is that the play features two men. In the UK, the Samaritans suicide statistics report of 2019 showed that men are three times more likely than women to die by suicide. Despite this fact, most media and art I have consumed about suicide focus on girls and women. It was refreshing to see this interaction between the men play out on stage.  Partway through their conversation they are interrupted by a policewoman who suddenly appears on the bridge. Apollonio grabs Marcello and they hide out of her sight. Apollonio tells Marcelo to keep quiet and explains that the police come by twice a day to monitor the bridge as it’s a popular spot for people to die by suicide. This scene perhaps serves as a contrast with Apollonio’s respectful and compassionate approach to connect with Marcelo.
This one-act Brazilian play, translated for an English audience, tackles the often taboo topic of suicide by showcasing the power of human connection. Although the subject matter is dark, I still found myself laughing at times. The narrative of two seemingly different men, and their profound impact on each other, stayed with me long after the final curtain.

- Reviewed by Aisha Walker MSc; Assistant Psychologist at Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. Twitter: @aishawalks

Find much more on suicide in our archive.

If you are affected by suicide or you are worried about someone, Samaritans is available 24/7 on 116 123 or via email [email protected].

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