A State of Mind is a one-woman verbatim piece about mental health that directly recounts the stories and lived experiences of a self-proclaimed rather “wonky” middle-aged woman named Billie (Alyce Louise-Potter). Directed by Xander Mars and performed by Louise-Potter, the piece tackles hard-hitting themes through the experimental technique of headphone verbatim or ‘recorded delivery’.
Recorded delivery is a performance method whereby the actor or actors are fed a recording of their subject through headphones, whilst repeating their words at a delay of several seconds. Through this method, Louise-Potter thoroughly inhabits Billie, diligently replicating her every word, breath, hesitation and half-finished sentence. The set-up reminds me of the 1980’s film Ghost; Louise-Potter acting as conduit, the Whoopie Goldberg to Billie’s Patrick Swayze.
The intended effect is that of immediacy, fostering the connection between the audience and the individual whose stories are being recounted, with an actor acting as a medium. The difficulty it poses for the performer lies in focusing simultaneously on performing the words they have just heard whilst also listening to the ones they must speak next (out of interest, I tried it myself before writing this review and can confirm that is takes a lot of concentration). As a result, Louise-Potter’s delivery is unnaturally stilted and disjointed, which partially negates the authenticity of the script. This is an unfortunate but perhaps inevitable by-product of recorded delivery. I wonder if the piece might have been better overall as a verbatim monologue, learned and performed in the traditional manner.
As it stands, Louise-Potter’s intonation has the rhythm of a chuntering freight train, somewhat reminiscent of Samuel Beckett’s Not I. Both her unwavering intensity and her frequent bursts of jarring maniacal laughter punctuate the stream-of-consciousness narrative. She is to be commended for her engaging intensity as a performer, and her ability to draw the audience in to Billie’s story.
Though Billie’s words have been edited and given shape to some extent, the material here certainly does not shy away from the harsher sides of life. Her story encompasses assault, bereavement, domestic abuse, drug use, alcoholism and fragile mental health. Billie’s story is nevertheless full of warmth, and it is impossible not to feel empathy towards her. Particularly poignant is her belief in art and self-expression as therapy, intrinsic to learning to break out from entrenched cycles of guilt and shame. Though I remain unconvinced by the performance technique, A State of Mind carries some profound messages around coping with a “wonky” state of mental health, the healing powers of Frida Kahlo and David Bowie, and most importantly: learning to love and accept yourself.
A State of Mind played at the Tristan Bates Theatre on December 3. For more information, click here.