Having myself been a crazy teenage girl not that long ago, I really wanted to love this piece. I too was an avid reader of Sylvia Plath, from whose writing this play takes its title. Yet while there are moments of poetic beauty in this confessional from four troubled teenagers there are also sadly some big blunders. The lead character, Alex (played by the playwright) channels Dorothy Parker’s acerbic and sullen wit and talks to the audience confidently and compellingly about her depression and subsequent “recovery” whilst drinking wine from the bottle. She gradually introduces the other four characters, her “sensible” best friend (Elspeth McKeever), her friend’s autistic younger brother (Daniel Cummins) and Alex’s recently-ex-boyfriend (Rob Neumark-Jones). All the actors perform these challenging parts well; Cummins is particularly strong as the brother, who not only has to deal with negative reactions to his autism but is also trying to come out as homosexual. The play smartly reveals how, though O’Connor and Cummins’ characters have been singled out as “different” and “crazy” (so much so that they certainly believe it), both the other characters have as many problems as they do, and just as complicated mental make-ups.
The script gets a really good grip on the arbitrariness of mental health diagnoses, and how they can function as a great relief and an aid to understanding oneself and explaining oneself to others. It also illustrates how conversely, but equally, they can proffer a label that is restricting and hard to lift. It acknowledges the little-spoken truth that we can’t make our problems go away by reminding ourselves of bigger horrors in the world and that others are worse of than we are – because how can acknowledging terrible things lift ones spirits? The script blends dialogue and monologues; some of the former is not very convincing, but the monologues work better – at moments they are poignantly truthful and articulate, striking a very deep chord. However, regarding the monologues: in moments of direct address it is common to confront the audience, to accuse them of involvement and responsibility in the events depicted on stage, to say that we are all guilty and to hold a mirror up to ourselves. It is an engaging and effective theatrical device and the performers handle it well, yet in Kiss Me and You Will See How Important I Am there is an unnecessary and surprising amount of anger directed at the audience, which doesn’t help its central argument for empathy. At best it is naïve, and at worst, offensive, to attack the audience in this way, having suggested from the play’s outset that this mental anguish is everywhere and affects all of us.
Another major problem I had with the piece was the inexplicable nastiness of Alex’s ex-boyfriend. He has lines that display homophobia, sexism and viciousness towards the mentally impaired, resulting in a caricature of nasty that doesn’t gel with this smart girl’s interest in him. However much we sympathise with him, being in the difficult position of carer for someone suffering from depression and emotional instability, and however fair his feelings of frustration may be, it doesn’t account for his vulgarity. Furthermore, I take issue with the fact that the flyer misleadingly refers to the piece as “raw and emotional physical theatre”: raw and emotional it may be but it’s not physical theatre. Physical theatre uses the body to tell the story: this is a piece of theatre which tells most of the story through naturalistic dialogue and movement, with two moments of dance thrown in. Misrepresentative advertising aside, the choreography, particularly of the first piece in which the two girls dance, was emotive, vivid and beautifully performed. The play is sensitively and skilfully directed by Sophie Fuller and, on the whole, its perceptiveness and intelligence do outweigh its faults and follies.
*** – 3 Stars.
Kiss Me and You Will See How Important I Am is playing at C venues as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information and tickets see the Edinburgh Fringe website.