Let’s Talk About Philip – Pleasance Courtyard

A marked contrast from the loud and punchy standard fare of the Edinburgh Fringe, the subtle approach taken in this play – appropriate, mind you, for the show’s content – is already a winner. There are also some insights into the writing process, even if Gregor Hunt’s (scripted) confusion as to precisely which of the ‘Everybody Else’ characters he’s meant to be playing at any given point starts to get repetitive. Helen Wood plays various versions of herself – not that she has eight split personalities, but there is, amongst others, the Helen that is now, the Helen that co-wrote the show not so long ago, and the childhood Helen who had Philip (1958-1985) for a brother.

Philip, Let's Talk About Philip. Credit Rebecca Pitt.
Philip, Let’s Talk About Philip. Credit Rebecca Pitt.

Part-play, part-confessional and part-documentary, there’s a quiet and always exquisitely polite and inherently British determination on Helen’s part to look further into the circumstances surrounding Philip’s death. Taken by his own hand, it wasn’t spoken about in the family, perhaps because the initial shock stunned them into silence, and that silence just carried on. Helen thinks it is simply because they weren’t the sort of people to talk about personal matters, so she colluded (her choice of word) with her parents and didn’t say anything. What’s particularly heartbreaking is that she can’t discount the possibility that this approach may itself have contributed to Philip’s suicide: perhaps he too felt it wasn’t appropriate to talk to family members about whatever it was that led him to take his own life, which in turn steeled his resolve.

Unflinchingly civilised, her increasing frustration was palpable with regards to delays in obtaining a copy of the inquest report into Philip’s death, then, because the report didn’t tell her anything she didn’t already know, the minutes of the proceedings and other supporting documents (‘exhibits’, I think, was the term). There had been, she discovers through various methods, other previous suicide attempts, and a suicide note. The story’s closure will be forever somewhat incomplete, and the question as to why he did it is at least partly unresolved. That doesn’t stop Helen from imagining what he would have said at the time, which provides a look into how a poignant final scene can be written in such a way as to bring closure for dramatic purposes.

It’s good to talk, as BT used to say. This show strikes a difficult but perfect balance between grief and joy, and between love and anger. It sounds clichéd, but if it helps a few people come to terms with their own bereavements, then perhaps some good can come out of Philip Wood’s suicide after all. Leaving no stone unturned, it’s a difficult but very worthwhile watch.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

It was the first time anyone in her family had spoken about her brother since his suicide, 32 years previously. Here, we are taken on a quest into the Wood family’s history to discover some hidden truths behind her brother’s death and the conspiracy of silence that surrounded them.

Writer/Performer Helen Wood
Writer/Performer Gregor Hunt
Director Derek Bond

Social media @SFTWShows, @HelenNicolaWood, @derekbond

Let’s Talk About Philip
Pleasance Courtyard (Upstairs), 60 Pleasance, Edinburgh, EH8 9TJ
Wednesday 3rd – Sunday 28th August 2022

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