Standing On My Knees

Mon 8th – Thu 11th August 2011

reviews

Fen Greatley

at 10:34 on 10th Aug 2011

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Plays about mental health issues are a minefield; you need to pick your way carefully and sensitively across them. Filled with trepidation, still mentally scarred from some of American High School Theatre Festival's other theatrical essays, I crossed my fingers for this one.

It wasn't bad. Luckily, the play was not original writing, having been around since the late 20th century. In fact, the script is absolutely fantastic, speaking to us time after time like our closest friend.

Catherine (Kat Alexander), a poet in the vice of schizophrenia and fresh out of hospital, is trying to get her life back on track with the help of heavy medication. The drama follows her as her struggles to rediscover her poetic voice impact on her relationship with friend and publisher, Alice (Mariah Kingery), and her forays into dating with Robert (Bryan Tripp) are halting.

Understandably Alexander plays Catherine as wide-eyed and a little dazed at first, but never without charm and character. The audience immediately sympathises with her plight and wishes her well. Each threat to her is a setback and we become protective, especially when she seems determined to remain in control but cannot. The slow lowering of her guard to Robert is expertly deployed. When Catherine begins to open up upon Robert's return from his sojourn, Alexander is mesmerising as she describes life on medication, “God's gift to the gifted”, and recounts the creative process in beautifully emotive terms, ideas flying at her. These are the real high points in the play.

Tripp makes little of the comedy in his role, although he is nicely awkward and slightly bumbling, while very attractive – a sort of American Hugh Grant. His use seems to be to stand there looking good in suits, “one for every day of the week”, since his part isn't particularly well written. Still, there's no conviction in anything, even his exclamatory 'Goddamnit's. His tone is thus rendered drab and his awkward movements and sexual advances somewhat menacing and seedy. He picks up when his character develops a backbone, but it's a little too late. Surprisingly, despite this, there is great chemistry between the characters and the scriptual strength leaves us agonisingly awating the kiss: this probably says as much about the RomCom genre.

Kingery and the psychiatrist (Lecil James) are largely unmemorable. The latter's performance is decidedly weaker than Kingery's or Tripp's, mostly due to a lack of engagement with the role and consequently a non-assumption of it. Kingery is also stronger later in time, fiery in her confrontational scenes, but whiny everywhere else.

The set is cleverly conceived and very realistic, a single woman's apartment, office, surgery and cafe at various points.

Some elements seem a little am-dram: the symbolic shedding of clothing, rehearsed interruptions in lines and the psychiatrist in clunky shoes and clothes with pen behind her ear, but music is used very well

This play is a slow burner; many of my earlier jottings suggest two stars (average), but things slowly improve. Alexander is unerringly fantastic as Catherine and her character development is evidently traceable throughout. Her supprting cast are less so, unfortunately.

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Rebecca Tatlow

at 10:34 on 10th Aug 2011

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Catherine, the protagonist of 'Standing on my Knees' is a schizophrenic. The action of the play is entirely dictated by her affliction and presents the difficulties she faces upon being discharged from hospital to once again join the outside world. Initially content with repairing her old relationships and starting new ones, she is unable to reject the power her mind once had to shape her writing and in the end she is forced to make a choice between sanity and art.

Kat Alexander's whirlwind portrayal was masterful. Entrusted with the only character of substance the success of this play rests upon her ability to prevent the script's focus on Catherine's illness from entirely consuming the audience's attention. The emotion with which she presented the temptation of abandoning the trials of reality was truly moving and the tension of the piece was increased exponentially by a host of subtle but effective movements that expressed not only Catherine's disatisfaction but also her desire. By the climactic final scene, her intensity had the entire audience focused upon the stage.

In comparison the other characters were indifferent. Their sole purpose seemed to be to place Catherine in certain cliched situations such as the awkward party at which she meets Robert (Bryan Tripp). Tripp became much stronger as the play progressed but I felt the chemistry between the two could have been made more pronounced without them losing the shyness which they both captured so well. The only regular contact they enjoyed was when he tucked her hair behind her ears - an act perhaps used a little too often. Meanwhile, the psychiatrist Joanne (Lecil James) was too clinical. Whilst the isolation of Catherine from those attempting to help her was evident, the distance in understanding between therapist and patient was unfortunately shown as Joanne's failure rather than something caused by Catherine herself.

Although I was not fond of elements of the script - especially the repeated use of phone calls as plot devices- this play is well worth seeing. Alexander's central performance is disturbingly realistic and the emotion invested in the piece more than compensated for the moments when the methods used to advance the plot felt forced. Well staged and starring a mature and professional young actress, 'Standing on my Knees' is a thought provoking examination of mental illness which could leave you weak at the knees.

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