Scribble

Thu 3rd – Sun 27th August 2017

reviews

Charlie Stone

at 10:01 on 10th Aug 2017

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A superb script underlines this well-constructed portrayal of the harrowing effects of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. 'Scribble' is a play wherein one man with the help of his assistant (a different guest actor each day) reading lines from a script tells us about his journey struggling with mental health, combining eloquent metaphor with raw frankness. Ross, a likeable character who attempts to take us teacher-like through his illness, only to collapse under the mental stress, is performed convincingly by Andy MacKenzie. MacKenzie's strength lies in his ability to remain perfectly still whilst depicting the dizzying rapidity of mental attacks.

The lack of physical movement in this play only serves to accentuate the contortions of Ross’ mind which leave the audience reeling at the performance’s close. Articulate at the beginning, incomprehensible towards the end, the script takes centre stage. Ross’ sentence structure is strangely the most impressive feature of the play. His use of metaphor in order to help describe OCD is both eloquent and chilling: never before have Bran Flakes been such an expressive image. Metaphors break down, though, where the truly disturbing lines come in. The theme of child abuse becomes a shady backdrop to the more recognisable symptoms of OCD’s anxiety issues, and sharply cuts between grandiose sentiment and explicit imagery to leave the audience uncomfortable in their seats.

A piece of original writing, the script is stressed further by the sparing use of stage space in which only a desk and notice board provide visuality to the scene. Props, though, are used just as well as the Bran Flake phenomenon: Ross’ stone which he keeps enclosed in his hand when anxious is a reminder of the constant presence of Fiona, his girlfriend, in whose absence he struggles so much. Again, in this case, simplicity is a means for constructing a remarkably articulate message.

At times, the efficiency of visual and textual features outshines the acting in the production. But this is more a case of the script’s and set’s strengths as opposed to the actors’ weaknesses. In fact, Ross creates a good dynamic with his audience, drawing them in with his friendliness and humour in order to make his breakdowns all the more striking. His dynamic with the co-actor is more interesting: both step in and out of character where their lines overlap, creating a sense that they are just as much spectators of the play, and of the impact of poor mental health, as their audience. Prevalent, then, is a sense of the real-life importance of recognising and addressing such mental health issues as the ones explored in this play: the actors are not just performing for us, but talking directly to us. That we contemplate this play in respect to real life issues, though, is a sign of the play’s own dexterity and the persuasive acting. 'Scribble' is, all in all, a compelling albeit harrowing spectacle, whose significance transcends the bounds of the theatre.

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Eleanor Lawson

at 10:45 on 10th Aug 2017

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A scribble is a form of writing, a hand movement, a knot in the chest that refuses to loosen until you are drowning in dry air. Andy Mackenzie’s gorgeously lyrical production about a man struggling to cope with the intrusive thoughts arising from his OCD and anxiety attempts to answer how we can move forwards when it feels like the knot in your chest is about to consume you. When it seems like it is all you are.

Andy Edwards, the scriptwriter, plays a PHD student called Ross in his award winning show, a cosmologist with a relentless adoration for astronomy, his girlfriend, and Bran Flakes. Mackenzie is consistently brilliant as Ross who slowly unravels and attempts to piece himself back together. It is impossible not to find him endearing as the sweet, bumbling teacher who wrings his hands after speaking, nodding his head frequently and ducking away from eye contact after rhapsodizing about the universe. The staging adds to this wonderfully, the stage lit predominantly by a small desk lamp and twinkling fairy lights, which illuminates Ross’s gloriously messy corkboard, rendering a stunningly intimate atmosphere. Ross is clearly not comfortable in his own skin, and it is physically painful to watch his limbs beginning to jerk in agitation as he spirals into the depths of his own mind.

This is literalized on the stage by the role played by a different guest actor for each performance, and by Pauline Lockhart on the day I watched the production. Beginning as a narrator who introduces the audience to the performance, Lockhart becomes a literalized form of the intrusive thoughts that keep Ross a captive in his own body, tormenting him to the point that he is rendered dumbstruck. When his own thoughts force him to perform a Question Time routine in which he wildly claps in response to horrifying questions, it is impossible to tear your gaze away as the raw thoughts that haunt his mind are exposed.

The script, despite verging near cliché towards its ending, radiates love from MacKenzie, demonstrated from the lyrical use of astronomy and cereal to try and rationalize his own feelings. From supernovas to the infamous Bran Flakes that are pinned to his corkboard and reappear throughout the show, as a form of coping with despair. In his own words: “It’s all about Bran Flakes. They’re key.” On a macrocosmic level, Ross brings his devotion to the universe to come to terms with his own mental state, attempting to shine a light on the beauty of humanity, torn between the impulse to expand and contract.

If cosmology and human interaction are cathartic for Ross, Scribble also constitutes a catharsis through the process of writing. Letters from the director, Amy Gilmartin, to the actress, establish a communication between director and actress, forming a connection between strangers through writing. As an action that destabilizes panic, the play itself, in its supposed 49th draft, is an act of catharsis in itself. With a gorgeously poetical script and talented main actor, Scribble is a gloriously emotive and optimistic look at mental health and humanity, and the need to keep the conversation going.

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