Photo – John Mcrae
The very same intrinsic qualities that drove Matthew Mitcham to focus and train hard enough to win Olympic Gold, are the ones that also steered him down the road of depression and self-harm. His will to succeed to exceptional heights, also caused him to believe that no matter what he achieved, it wasn’t good enough.
Matthew Mitcham’s Twists and Turns is the autobiographical account of his life so far, told in music, stories and a mesmerising spot of trampolining. I’m glad I had a front row seat!
Mitcham doesn’t face the audience alone in the glorious West Australian Spiegeltent. He is accompanied on keyboard and backing vocals by Jeremy Brennan (Jersey Boys), who is also the Musical Director of the production. Mitcham accompanies himself on the ukulele and surprised me by having a deeply alluring voice. His lower register in particular is rich in tone and the sound crew made good use of technical elements to enhance the effect, especially for the “under water” song. The show was written by cross-dressing, London star, “Spanky”, who also features heavily in the cabaret as the voice of Mitcham’s inner self. Spanky provides backing vocals and fills the stage with charisma and more sass and glamour than most “real” women.
Twists and Turns is a raw, beautiful and honest look at Mitcham’s life as a child and his desperate need, as we all have, to belong. Being secretly gay made things even harder for him. He always felt different, and his inner dialogue reflected what he felt society believed; that it was wrong to have homosexual thoughts and so he punished himself whenever they entered his head.
When Mitcham told us about his first love (Trampolining), two of the tech crew brought in a full sized trampoline. Mitcham then proceeded to do a routine that was just breathtaking in its precision and ease. He has the chiselled physique of a professional athlete and we were all pretty happy to see it in action when he simulated the dive that brought him to the attention of an entire nation.
Mitcham was plucked out of a trampolining competition by a diving coach and from there trained twice daily in the pool and once on the tramp (for fun), until he was as strong and as skilled as the best in the world. The pressure, the haunting, omnipresent inner dialogue and the rigorous schedule was too much for him though and he turned to clubbing and drugs for an escape. Mitcham tells of how he was able to hide his drug abuse from everyone who knew him and even those who loved him most dearly, until after he competed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and received the highest single-dive score in Olympic history.
Mitcham is one of few Olympians to compete as an openly gay man and he speaks fondly of his long-term partner, Lachlan who has supported him for the last 8 years. He is especially proud that the celebratory kiss they shared during his victory lap became an iconic moment of the Beijing Olympics.
Mitcham is an inspiration to young people everywhere who are suffering with mental health concerns like low self-esteem, self-harm, substance abuse, issues related to their sexuality, depression and perfectionism. Speaking to us last night, Mitcham came across as a young man who has come through the worst parts of a tumultuous journey, and I am motivated to follow his progress in the future, both as an athlete and an artist.
Twists and Turns Productions present
Twists and Turns
Directed by Nigel Turner–Carroll
Venue: The West Australian Spiegeltent | The Pleasure Garden, James Street, Northbridge, WA
Dates: February 10 – 16, 2015