Emma Taylor

at 09:54 on 12th Aug 2016

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Heartbreaking and breathtaking, 'Delay Detach' is a performance that beautifully and elegantly succeeds in illustrating the impact of mental health on everyday life. Piercing in its poignancy, it is one of the rare shows which ache with raw emotion, managing, somehow, to touch a room of strangers with its bare portrayal of a mental health disorder and the triumph of friendship.

The beauty of the show lies in its simplicity. At its bones it is the story of a friendship between Caitlin and Sophie, one with a borderline personality disorder. We follow them throughout the various stages of their lives, from childhood to old age, and in doing so we rise and fall with the characters. A touching depiction of childhood moves into a moving portrayal of adolescent years, and then into their twenties, middle age and finally, heartbreakingly, old age. What makes the performance so poignant is the way the portrayal of normality – teenage angst, first relationships, first jobs – is shot through with dark shards of mental illness. By using the friendship as a lens through which to view mental health, ‘Delay Detach’ explores what is a highly complex issue with grace, understanding and humanity.

It is Joanna Alpern’s writing which underpins this accomplishment, illustrating the raw emotions elicited from mental health disorders – fear, guilt, blame and frustration, but also courage, hope and the tenderness of a lifelong friendship. Caitlin, heartrending in her desperation, cries ‘I don’t know who I am, Sophie’, who replies ‘I’ll be your mirror… I’ll tell you you’re Caitlin’. Moments of brilliant comedy, such as a sixth form holiday, prevent the show from becoming unbearably dark, and ensure the characters aren’t simply victims, but humans.

Performances by both Cara Mahoney (Sophie) and Amy Chubb (Caitlin) are exquisite. Portraying everyday life in theatre is remarkably difficult, as it needs the restraint of normality, and the acting in ‘Delay Detach’ is here exemplary. It is acting at its subtlest, and remains completely believable throughout. Whether the characters are small children building imaginary houses or elderly women comforting each other, it feels as if we are witnessing a genuine moment of friendship.

‘Delay Detach’ is incredible: it uses theatre to peel back the layers of confusion surrounding mental health, stripping it back to something understandable. Its rawness is so acute that it is almost painful to watch, but please do. It is hauntingly beautiful, and haunting here is used in a way to mean it will stay with you long after the show’s final words have been spoken.

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Thomas Jordan

at 13:13 on 12th Aug 2016

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Mental illness is a tough subject to approach, even when fictional. The sensitivity and complexity of the concept is such that most attempts will fail. So to see Joanna Alpern handle the matter with such elegance and poignancy, yet also directness and realism, is incredibly refreshing. This is a piece of writing that absolutely nails the fallibility of both sides of a relationship affected by mental illness.

The play focuses on the friendship between two girls, who we see conversing at flashpoints of various stages of their lives. The chronology isn’t fully linear: early scenes, which depict the latter stages of their relationship, are designed to only give hints of fault lines which are later seamlessly developed. These timeline leaps require some incredibly versatile acting, with Amy Chubb (Caitlin) and Cara Mahoney (Sophie) subtly adapting their mannerisms almost flawlessly.

The simple lighting and set reflect the bareness with which we eventually see the inner workings of both their minds, beginning with Caitlin. Her early problems are obvious indications of a very troubled teenager: self-harm, skewed views of sex and broken parental relationships. To a keen diagnostic eye, these early signs begin to point towards borderline personality disorder, though this specific knowledge is not necessary to appreciate the impact of the show. Meanwhile, Sophie is the timid but compassionate “bestie”, burdened with Caitlin’s dependence on her.

Where this show excels, however, is by constantly reinventing this original dichotomy. Suddenly Sophie is the one with a boyfriend who is a “mess”, and Caitlin has stopped drinking. From this moment on we are taken through several intensely real and troubling flips in power, in which neither character is ever at a perfect moral understanding of mental health. The sympathy the audience might feel for Sophie’s constant support of her friend is contrasted with sudden losses of patience: “some people can cope, and some people can’t”. This is a powerful statement by Alpen, who is bravely plunging into the heart of the destructive vicious cycles that mental illness can create. The actions of both are trapped in the tragic contradiction of both being simultaneously justified (by illness and unfair responsibility respectively), yet inexcusable. When Sophie accuses her best friend of using her “scary, sexy wounds” to her advantage, we understand her frustrated outburst, but we are also painfully aware of how damaging an allegation it could be.

Alpen’s ending captures this paradox with such realism that a frightening number of audience members will feel as though they are looking in a mirror. Both are loveable. Both are excruciatingly fallible. Both are caught in the grappling arms of mental illness.

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