Beyond Therapy

Fri 2nd – Sat 10th August 2013

reviews

Megan Stodel

at 01:00 on 3rd Aug 2013

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A pleasant chap in a dashing dressing gown greeted my fellow reviewer and me as we queued at theSpace on the Mile. He was there to check our tickets, and even though we both warmed to him, it transpired he wasn’t actually sure what to do with them. This turned out to be a trend for the rest of the experience, as an enthusiastic cast grappled with a poor script and inexperience.

The cast are earnest and likeable. However, their performances vary. Suzanne Raffles hits the right note with her off-the-wall portrayal of therapist Charlotte, while Tom Purchase plays her patient Bruce well, giving the character greater depth than the script itself offers. On the other hand, Will Maynard’s Stuart (also a therapist) sometimes misses potential humour by delivering lines with too much intensity. Alex Newcome’s Bob, Bruce's lover, can be too hysterical to understand clearly. Nicola Deacon’s Prudence (another patient and another one of Bruce's paramours) does not have much range, making her over-exaggerated expressions of shock and disgust somewhat tiresome, though to be fair, she seldom gets a good line.

In fact, a number of the problems with 'Beyond Therapy' come from the script itself. The plot follows Prudence and Bruce as they negotiate their relationship, whilst working through their various issues in therapy. Considering it premièred over 30 years ago, it is perhaps inevitable that the play's approaches to mental illness, sexual orientation and gender leave much to be desired. In 2013, I don’t generally expect to see a character declaring that they "hate homosexuals" whilst the bisexual and gay men in the production are portrayed in effeminate stereotypes. Therefore, the play was an odd choice. The same team would have done better pouring their energy into something that wasn’t as dated, and they might have felt more confident in their characters with a stronger script.

A few technical hitches and one notable wardrobe malfunction (I’d suggest wearing boxers under that dressing gown, but where would be the fun in that?) revealed that the production still needs some polish. This is the start of the run and those involved are all students so these issues can mainly be forgiven, but hopefully they will be ironed out in the next few performances.

An animated cast give 'Beyond Therapy' energy and get the audience on their side. Unfortunately, the content of the play is not particularly gripping or intelligent and overall the rest of the production is underwhelming. There is potential in this company but it has not been realised here.

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Kate Wilkinson

at 01:34 on 3rd Aug 2013

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'Beyond Therapy' is a comedy which requires boundless energy, unwavering commitment and- ironically for a play about psychological health- mental endurance. Birmingham Medic’s performing arts society (ARTE) convince the audience that this fabulous, frivolous farce is in a safe pair of hands.

The play progresses through a number of increasingly wild set pieces, all of which received a round of applause from the audience, who responded enthusiastically all evening, no doubt helping to fuel the cast’s energy. The performance space was intimate and the production made simple use of staging and props, giving the actors maximum attention. Occasionally there were a few minor hiccups in the lighting and transitions, but they did not detract from the performance. At one point, Bruce (Tom Purchase) improvised over a restaurant scene that failed to light up, commenting that ‘this restaurant has suddenly got very dark’.

Clearly the entire cast were extremely comfortable with their own characters, the audience and each other and this confidence helped their ensemble piece feel ‘together’ and gave the impression that the performers were genuinely having a good time. While the precarious relationship between Bruce (Tom Purchase) and Prudence (Nicola Deacon) leads the plot, the warped and fraught scenes between them and their psychiatrists Charlotte (Suzanne Raffles) and Stuart (Will Maynard) are no less fascinating.

The comedy is predominantly character-based so luckily the characterisation is pleasingly strong across the board. Despite the ridiculousness of the dialogue and melodrama of the plot, the cast managed to avoid insincerity. Bruce’s constant crying could have grated, but Purchase crafted a surprisingly believable and sympathetic character. Deacon as Prudence was also likeable, despite her character’s childishness and mild homophobia.

Bruce’s psychiatrist Charlotte is literally barking mad- she has a bizarre relationship with a toy dog- and Suzanne Raffles revelled in her eccentricity. Maynard’s misogynistic Texan Stuart is equally unhinged and his attempts at sexual harassment are skin-crawlingly creepy. The part of Bruce’s (by the way, he’s bisexual) male lover, Bob is played with gusto by Alex Newcome. The dynamism of his performance was at times constricted by a slight wardrobe malfunction involving a dressing gown, however Newcome’s commitment to the character was undeniable. Even the smallest part of the waiter (Philip Rankin) must be given credit for his brilliantly dead pan delivery of some of the funniest and most offbeat lines towards the end of the show.

Dealing with mental illness and homosexuality, this comedy could have left a sour taste if treated insensitively. While the scenes involving Bruce and Bob were most definitely camp, melodramatic, loud and messy, so was the entire play- thus the depiction avoided mere stereotype. With just a few minor glitches which I’m sure will be ironed out in future performances, this farce is a guaranteed night of laughter.

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