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Henry Madd - Land of Lost Content Interview

Henry Madd’s autobiographical show Land of Lost Content is set to tour the UK this Spring, commencing with a weeklong run at London’s Arcola Theatre. A provocative, nostalgic insight into friendship and adolescence, Land of Lost Content is an empowering coming-of-age story about the trials of growing up in a small country town, and its ongoing effects on two estranged mates. Drawing on themes of mental health and substance abuse in rural areas, this poignant work sheds light on the unique challenges small town life poses to relationships, through a funny yet moving blend of theatre and spoken word.

Photo by Ali Wright, design by Alice Gorman

Henry and Jake were two bored friends who grew up in Ludlow, a quiet country town where friendships were forged in failed adventures, bad habits, and damp raves, as they stumbled through adolescence looking for something to do. Then Henry moved away. Now he’s back, and there’s no enjoying a welcome home pint without facing up to the memories – and the people – he left behind. Welcome to a town where worlds are turned upside down in an instant, yet nothing seems to change.

Land of Lost Content is a necessary analysis on youth mental health and addiction, highlighting the effects of underfunded mental health and youth services, and the stigma around reaching out in rural settings. The show expertly produces the atmosphere of the people and places in Ludlow, immersing audiences from all backgrounds in its microcosm. On their path, Henry and Jake trip over hurdles of abuse, drugs, and unreliable buses as life refuses to go to plan.

Ahead of the run in London and the tour we caught up with Henry to discuss the show in more detail.

Where did your performing journey begin?
How far back do you want to go? I played “lead rat” in a year 2 production of the Pied Piper and I’ve been trying to prove that I didn’t peak back then ever since. (The jury is still out on whether that iconic performance will ever be topped). As an adult, however, my performance journey really kicked off on spoken word poetry stages which started a circular path away from and then back to theatre. I loved the immediacy of the poetry world, you could go from writing a piece that day and performing it the same night.

How did you approach a career in the arts?
Chaotically. I’ve always felt everyone else in the industry attended a meeting that I missed where all the important ‘how to’ info was shared. To catch up, I’ve tried to throw myself at various areas of the creative sector working in arts management, events, programming, teaching, writing and performance. I used to work under Debra Shaw at The Marlowe, Canterbury, and she described my career as a portmanteau career’ which is a term I’ve always quite liked.Most people I know who work in the arts seem to have a similar system.

How would you describe your writing style to anyone who doesn’t know you?
Wordy. Hopefully accessible and relatable. Romanticising the ordinary and ordinary-ising the extraordinary.

How did you approach putting so much of yourself in tothe piece?
Slowly and with many attempts at avoidance. The show starts with the line “I always find it easier telling other peoples’ stories than my own. This came out of the realisation that in trying to write about myself, I’d mainly written about other people. Of course, in turn this ended up being very revealing in its own way. That old saying about all art being autobiographical is inescapable.

The show touches on the themes including mental health and substance abuse, how do you feel the world views these topics in 2024?
That’s a difficult question to answer, mental health is such a broad term. Obviously there has been a massive increase in people’s awareness about mental ill/health and how willing and open they are to talk about it. This has removed a lot of the taboo around the subject which is revolutionary considering how it was viewed even 50 years ago. However, the downside to that is that through increased exposure, the topic has lost some of its weight which can lead to peopledismissing mental ill-health almost as a trend. This only emphasises the need to continue talking about it but to also consider how we talk about it. 

I think people are more understanding of substance abuse than they used to be however there is still a long way to go. For change to happen it has to come from the top, it can’t be left to the people facing the issue to solve it by themselves.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing young people and their mental well-being today?
Lack of funding to services. Lack of funding to services. Lack of funding to services. That and the apocalyptic nature of the time we live in. Every generation faces its barrage of anxiety inducing world events, but I do feel we are in an exceptionally cataclysmic time, then throw into the mix our increased access to information and pressure of social media. Meanwhile mental health services are routinely slashed. I recently watched This Might Not Be It' at The Bush theatre which dealt with the topic brilliantly.

Photo by Raphael Klatzko

How do you prepare for a show?
Eat a banana and then dip into listening to Mark EG b2b M-zone 1998 Energy full set.  Pure disgusting trance, it’s great…or terrible… maybe both, but we used to listen to it as adolescents and it puts me right back there mentally.

If you could have dinner with 3 famous people, who would you invite and why?
I get star struck really easily so I think eating dinner with 3 famous people I look up to creatively would probably be a disaster.

With that in mind, I’d just invite whoever is responsible for making accommodation during Edinburgh Fringe so expensive. The goal here being to convince them to make it cheaper by winning them over with a delicious pie.

If you were a biscuit, what biscuit would you be and why?
Rich tea because I crumble under pressure.

Land of Lost Content plays at London’s Arcola Theatre from 27th February until 2nd March. The show then tours playing in Tunbridge Wells, Canterbury, Norwich, Guildford, Oxford, Bristol, Leeds, Hereford, Birmingham, Bradford, York and Falmouth.

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