Extreme Withdrawal Is Manifest

Fri 9th – Sun 18th August 2013

reviews

Jazz Adamson

at 09:43 on 12th Aug 2013

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1disagrees

The title of this play sounds like a symptom of mental illness, and this is an accurate description of the plot: a mother struggles to look after her daughter Rosie, who shows a number of symptoms of depression or psychosis. It is suggested that she suffers from a multiple personality disorder. Despite some clever uses of multimedia and masks, the show was bland and pedestrian.

The two actors were dynamic when playing Rosie during a schizophrenic episode; she appeared both hopeless and utterly manic. Alice Smithson managed to pull off such varied roles as the school ‘Love Interest’ (a truculent teenage boy), and the hopeless teacher, Ms Rosehip. Her charming, funny depiction of Rosie’s tough best friend Abby is worthy of note. The use of masks gave visual stimulus to the quick-change role-play in the same way that the short videos played on the backdrop smoothed over scene changes. Unfortunately these devices were unable to do enough to provide excitement.

Parts of the script were, however, exciting – the frenzied chant of the poem was captivating for the short while it was performed as it perfectly expressed the madness of Rosie’s world. For that brief while, nothing quite made sense and everything was too loud. In short, we felt we had fallen into madness too. Then the scene changed and it was again apparent we were just watching people pretending. Certain roles seemed overacted, such as the nervy receptionist and Rosie’s grandmother – the opportunity for a heart-breaking portrayal of a grandmother torn apart by anxiety (or even hostile towards the concept of mental illness) was missed, and replaced with the farcical stock character of the old gran.

The production lacked structure. The script is not strong enough for it merely to be an illustration of a broken home, and without a plot it floundered. It cannot claim to be a bleak depiction of mental illness either, since all we are offered is questions: from Rosie’s family, her friends, teachers and counsellor. We get no answers from her, her only words are spoken as she attempts to write a letter to her mother. As the title would suggest, all we have are symptoms and no diagnosis – it is in this way the play is interesting, as it endeavours to explore the effects a broken mind can have on those closest to it.

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Millie Morris

at 12:26 on 12th Aug 2013

1agrees

0disagrees

This tiny set stowed below a pub a little further out from the city centre gives immediate indication of the action that is to come: cramped, cluttered, and just a touch too abstract to have any concrete impact. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the acting standard of this two-woman show; if anything, many of the multiple characters donned are hard-hitting and linger in the mind long after the final curtain – unfortunately, the whole thing is just too obscure to merit any real applause.

Helen (Laura Hills-Leigh), the twitchily frantic mother to mentally disturbed Rosie (Alice Smithson), is left reeling from emotion after the disappearance of her daughter. Swirling from place to place and person to person, the performance uses flashbacks, monologue, film and masks to convey the tale of a family broken by miscommunication. It is difficult to keep track of who did what and when, but we can surmise that Rosie has escaped her mother on the grounds of neglect and perpetual misunderstanding: her internal imbalances have no outlet, and for this she must be alone.

Characterisation, although jumping from role to role, is generally strong. What really leaps out is Hills-Leigh’s portrayal of the demon in Rosie’s mind, the embodiment of her mental difficulty which squeals and trembles like a psychotic animal. This overzealous creature is genuinely terrifying: the inner twin of a toiled mind wails and shrieks over Rosie’s troubled words, giving successful insight to the terrors of insanity.

However, the piece has unmistakeable flaws which leave questions hanging on the lips of the audience. We find out towards the end of the play that Rosie rang her mother to talk just before she ran away – this first attempt at real communication is said to have been brushed off by Helen in favour of the latter concentrating on her work. This appears at odds to the heartbroken, fragile mother whose frustration at the lack of progress with her daughter is pitiable; it seems that after coaxing Rosie to open up for so long, Helen would surely jump at the chance to speak properly with her. It is these dichotomies which weaken the overall play, creating loopholes through which it is difficult to see and understand the bigger picture.

This show is distinctive in its electric exploration of the stigma surrounding mental health, and offers many interesting ways of tackling its representation – it just does not quite hit the mark. As though the influx of character portrayal is overcompensating for the small cast, there is too much going on in this absurd construction to be anything particularly deep and affecting.

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