Hannah Morpeth recently spoke to Wilkie Branson ahead of production, TOM debuting at Sadler’s Wells Theatre. TOM is set to be a brilliant fusion of choreography and digital animation dreamt up by the self-taught creative Wilkie Branson and commissioned by Sadler’s Wells and Pavillion Dance South West.

What are You Reading/Listening/Watching?

“Whilst I’m making work, I have a lot of music on in the background, mostly playing through YouTube. Google’s algorithms take me to some interesting places (and some, not so much!), but this week I’ve mostly been listening to a live session that CocoRosie did. You can listen along for a little inspiration too, here. “

Creating TOM

We asked Branson how TOM came about: “I started making TOM just after I moved back to the UK after some years living abroad. At the time, I was struggling with several things and TOM sort of ended up being a way of retreating into my mind and living there. I used it as a way of avoiding things I was afraid of tackling, and instead just poured my life and time into this piece of work.”

TOM sounds to us to be both a unique and timely performance, with awareness of men’s mental health on the rise, TOM seeks to explore identity including the mental health of the protagonist played by Branson himself. Branson tells us he hopes an audience will leave a theatre knowing that “we’re not alone in being alone”. TOM is an exploratory piece of dance theatre which does not specifically seek to answer questions however does seek to provide an opportunity to reflect on life: “We all struggle in life sometimes, for example dealing with depression, and this is a chance to reflect on that a bit.”

When dealing with such personal issues such as identity and mental illness it would be an impossible task to not have this influenced by personal experiences however TOM is set within a more abstract world “reduced down to just emotions and feelings and then rebuilt from there. When it comes to mental health, it can be difficult to justify yourself and your feelings, but we’re all different and I didn’t want the feelings in this to be attached to literal events or actions. I wanted to separate them out because the feelings are valid – that’s what matters to me in what I would like to express.”

Arts Education 

Education in the arts is always a challenging topic, can you really teach this kind of talent? Branson is a perfect example of someone breaking into the industry despite being largely self-taught. Branson tells us about logistical reasons for trying his hand at digital animation: “it’s partly a practical decision, to make a show like this ‘properly’ would have involved lots of people I couldn’t afford to pay, so it just wouldn’t have been made. In order to realise the vision and avoid settling for a compromise, it meant doing different parts of the process myself.” There are benefits to making a show in this way in that it gives an opportunity for the most accurate transference of ideas from ones head onto the stage, albeit quite a sizeable task for one person!

Dance and Mental Health

We at Create Healthy Minds are so passionate about the importance of both participation in and opportunities to experience the arts to support emotional wellbeing. Branson tells us of his personal experience of the benefits of dance: “I could express all the things I wanted with it. You can describe feelings with words, but for me I found that the best way to talk with feelings was through music and dance. It’s difficult to put something into words if you don’t understand it, but sometimes with dance we can embody those things and they come to light a bit where they otherwise never would.”

We hope you feel as excited as we do for TOM’s debut at Sadler’s Wells, it promises to be a brave exploration of one man’s identity and mental health presented in a unique fusion of dance and digital animation.

You can catch TOM at Sadler’s Wells Theatre from 15th-17th November, tickets are available on Sadler’s Wells website.

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