THE impact of the coronavirus pandemic on mental health has inspired two online theatre performances which can be seen this week.

Popty Ping Productions has teamed up with Span Arts for this virtual community theatre project.

Performances will be available to live-stream, for free, on Friday December 4 and Saturday December 5, at 7.30pm. See the Span Arts website for more information.

Actor, mental health advocate and critically-acclaimed writer Ceri Ashe, the founder of Popty Ping Productions, has collaborated with Span Arts to write and produce two new pieces of verbatim theatre.

Originally from Maenclochog, Ceri is the author of the critically-acclaimed, Off West End award-winning show Bipolar Me, which received a sell-out run at London’s The Etcetera Theatre in October 2019 and again in Fishguard last February

Ceri penned the pieces inspired by weekly virtual storytelling workshops where participants have been sharing their experiences, struggles, and stories of lockdown, coupled with her own experience of living with bipolar.

Themes covered in both plays include isolation, loneliness, depression and alcoholism, and the need for proper mental health support––issues that have been exacerbated for many this year.

In Making Bread & Babies, a group of creatives who have never met in real life, become the best of friends as they try to create a verbatim play online. Bara & Babanod (a bilingual Welsh and English play with subtitles) follows a day in the life of the Jones family’s Zoom calls as they worry about the one sibling who isn’t in Maenclochogfor the October firebeak lockdown.

This project's cast and production team features professional actors from London and Cardiff (Izzy Gibb, Samuel Normington, Angharad Tudor), Pembrokeshire talent (Paul Best, Rebecca Ashe, Fflur Evans), volunteers from Span Arts (Kelvyn Lewis, Rhydian Watkins), director and script editor from California (Ami Lum) and Pembrokeshire film-maker (Jake Whittaker).

Ceri said: “With one in five adults experiencing some form of depression during the pandemic, it is more important than ever to keep the conversation flowing around mental health.

"Whilst I am excited to be back creating art and finding new ways to tell stories as theatres remain closed, it is with a heavy heart that we still find ourselves in this dystopian situation. When we originally planned the project earlier this year, we expected to be reflecting on the pandemic and not still living through it."

Ceri added: “It’s not all doom and gloom however. This opportunity has allowed us to work with people around the world – opening new virtual doors – that hopefully we will be able to capitalise on when we come out the other side. Through the project, we hope to bring some joy, hope and a few belly laughs to viewers as we all navigate our way through the new normal.”

Anna Sherratt, distance digital programme manager from Span Arts, noted:

“This project has given participants the opportunity to work with a writer and theatre facilitator who has direct experience of a mental health condition. This has encouraged our volunteers to openly share their experiences in a safe creative space where they felt heard and supported at a time when access to mental health support is limited.”