Gareth Jandrell’s new play deftly and daringly tackles the issues and stigmas attached to mental illness. Winner of the Tobacco Factory’s Script Space 2010, the writing is snappy and humorous, encompassing a heady range of interpersonal as well as internal dialogues; from an awkward proposition and rapid-fire non-sequiturs through to abject diatribes as troubled protagonist Nick bemoans his pure obsessional condition (the titular ‘Pure O’).
Jack Hughes as Nick is convincing and sympathetic, if not a little too wide-eyed and overwrought at times. Christopher Hughes as Glen, Nick’s deviant alter ego and manifestation of his neuroses, is the standout – switching between laddish conviviality and sinister goading, lewd ripostes and skulking insouciance. The myriad interactions and conflicts between Nick and Glen form undoubtedly the most interesting and adeptly handled part of a generally impressive production. Rachel Stubbings, Myles Nichol and Donna Hughes provide competent support in multiple roles as various inmates, visitors, ex-lovers and psychiatrists.
Ng Choon Ping capably and inventively directs the actors with a blend of humour and choreography befitting the source material. Aside from a few overblown moments, which fitted too easily with a play about mental illness (too many flashing lights, too much shouting and banging) and a slight clumsiness to the first five minutes, Pure O is an entertaining and thought provoking production about mental illness and our ways of dealing with or reacting to it. It often veers into the dark and perverse, though not for the sake of it, and explores complex issues in an unflinching, intelligent and ultimately sympathetic manner which neither alienates the audience nor condescends its subject matter.
Pure O is performing at the Kings Head Theatre until 17 December. For more information and tickets, see the Kings Head website.