Venue: West Yorkshire Playhouse
Run: 2 – 4 November 2017
An extraordinary, deeply important piece of theatre, performed by the Youth Theatre, following the stories of seven young people’s struggles and experiences of mental health issues and illnesses. The performance was just over an hour long with no interval and it was thoroughly captivating from start to finish. The set, staging and the use of colours of the characters’ clothing were brilliant. Each of the seven participants of the group counselling sessions wore different coloured clothes and accessories. This was symbolic, especially as the play developed, each colour representing a different psychiatric illness, which, as well as being visually stimulating, helped the audience to understand and engage with the specific topics addressed (food, self-harm, drug abuse, teenage parenting).
The performance from the actors, despite their young age, was faultless; the utmost professionalism was observed, they worked well together and each took on their character splendidly. Characters ranged from doctors, teenagers, nurses to parents, and these were treated appropriately in regards to every aspect: the script, language and performance. Movement, music and light were used to create the atmosphere and emotion. Seamless and subtle changes meant there was no need for actual set changes and the audience was never left behind. The whole stage was used to its advantage and to create the desired emotion, for example the fast turning of the roundabout and the loud and overlapping voices to create the character’s feeling of desperation, anxiety and panic.
The research and tremendous amount of thought that went into making this piece of theatre genuine was evident. Each mental health problem was dealt with sensitively and compassionately, and the different perspectives of such illnesses were portrayed. This included the value of Mindfulness, views on meditation, and the contrasting views of self-harm between parents and health professionals. Through this play, the audience was able to glimpse the struggles and processes which people with mental ill health deal with in order to get help and support: the waiting lists, the various assessment questionnaires and scales (which were explained through a comedic skit, reminiscent of Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach), the misinterpretation (“chill out.. don’t take life so seriously”), the disjointedness of children’s and adult’s services (“not a transition but a bloody great full stop”).
The end of the play (involving a culmination of character Lily’s story, and the following being said: “freaks are those who can cope and can get back up” was poignant and upsetting, not least because it was unsurprising. It was thought-provoking, at times uncomfortable to watch, and sadly all too familiar, which, as Director Gemma Woffinden herself said when speaking generally, is exactly what “makes for a good piece of theatre”. Though, arguably, I would change her word “good” for “outstanding”.
Reviewers : Georgie Blanshard and Lucy Clark