cant stop can’t stop is an immersive show that explores the performer’s own experience of living with severe OCD. This debilitating condition affects 1.2% of the UK population and manifests itself in disturbing, intrusive thoughts, compelling the sufferer to perform repetitive actions that quickly become exhausting, which is why Sam Ross is focussing on this whilst at Edinburgh’s Fringe this August.

Sam spoke with The Fountain about destigmatising the illness, his influences and also his plans beyond the Fringe.

TF: You are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, how exciting, what can we expect?

can’t stop can’t stop is a very honest and intense portrayal about living with mental illness. It’s quite a hard watch, but you can also expect a ukulele, grapes, therapy, feathers and meltdowns.

TF: And it sounds intriguing, obviously with the focus on OCD, but what is the premise?

The show is partly autobiographical, in the sense that it describes my own personal experiences of living and suffering with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and the fears that fuel my desperate and tireless routines. I also take pains to explain the science behind how the mental illness develops in the brain, and how modern psychotherapy treats the illness using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques and medicines such as Sertraline.

One of the key aims of the show however is to destigmatise an illness that despite being widely known is trivialised often in popular culture, and has many misconceptions surrounding it – for example the idea that OCD is just about liking things neatly ordered or clean. The goal is to emphasise that OCD is a wide spectrum of multiple different narratives; each OCD case differs by what fears trigger it, the compulsions performed to cope with these, and the intensity of anxiety felt.

TF: And what drove the project, where did your influences lie?

The show was initially written as a fifteen minute performance for a theatre module during my first semester at the University of Sheffield. Prior to this, my OCD had worsened very significantly as a reaction to the move to university. What often frustrated me during this time was that people who passed me as I was stuck in one of my routines couldn’t recognise or understand what I was suffering from and didn’t know how to help. I therefore was interested in creating something which explained my mental health condition, what it feels like to live with it, and how others can help sufferers.

I was inspired a lot by the politically/socially focused theatre that I’ve seen, such as Fake It Till You Make It by Bryony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn, a show which attempted to destigmatise male depression and convey what it’s like to suffer from this mental illness. On the research side, I drew on The Man Who Couldn’t Stop by David Adam, a brilliant introduction to OCD and the history of its diagnosis and treatment.

TF: What are your plans for the Fringe, have you been before?

The show will be in Edinburgh throughout the entire festival, from 1st-27th August). You can catch it at C Royale at 4:35pm on most days (except 3rd, 8th, 13th, 20th, and 14th).
I am most definitely not a stranger to the fringe. I first visited back in 2013 and loved the atmosphere of the city in August. Since then, I have tried to attend every year. More recently, I performed with Babolin Theatre in their 2016 fringe show The Humble Heart of Komrade Krumm – this was my first experience of being actively involved in the festival itself, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

TF: And what are your future plans beyond can’t stop can’t stop?

I am aiming to tour the show following the fringe, in the hopes that the message of the show can reach a wider audience and continue to spark discussion around this subject. I have a couple of other ideas for projects I’d like to work on, but until then I want to also focus on finishing my degree next year.

can’t stop can’t stop, C royale, 22 George Street, EH2 2PQ, Venue 6, 1-27 August (not 3, 8, 13, 17, 20, 24), 16:35 (55 mins)

@samdoestheatre