Admittedly, I am a big advocate of bold female characters on stage. I am also always intrigued to see how theatre can tackle a subject like mental illness. It is not unchartered territory on the stage, but as 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental illness and so many more us by association, there is plenty of room for frank and honest productions that can make mental health more accessible. In the spirit of frank honesty, I am no stranger to the knock on effects of mental illness myself and so was quite prepared to take it personally if the content was mishandled. Fortunately that was not the case.
This production promised to be an autobiographical insight from writer Chantelle Dusette into a young woman’s chaotic head as she tries to pursue happiness whilst struggling to define what she experiences as depression.
Maya Thomas’s character emerges from under the covers of her bed and we quickly gage a picture of a self professed ‘square peg, round hole’ in society. Satisfied with “two one night stands per year”, but unsatisfied in her current workplace and circumstances; her coping mechanism is to turn to drink and drugs which of course can only make for a vicious circle.
We are taken through her routine and allowed access to her inner monologue; abstract words, repetition and poetry seem natural to her ever fluctuating mind set, and the language stands out as bold, brave and truthful.
We notice the character bares a facial scar, subsequent to a house fire from her youth; this is touched upon as something that sets her apart from the many faces on the tube, but I felt that this detail of her identity was slightly undeveloped.
The play was also littered with humour and I particularly enjoyed the way Thomas effortlessly adopted numerous impersonations. An overly chatty co worker (we’ve all encountered them), a softly spoken psychiatrist quizzing her about wine consumption (a few people hastily put their glasses down), to name a couple. The tone changed as she spoke to a self obsessed friend, who confused depression with feeling down and warned her not to touch any pills. Though delivered comedically, this also addressed the many misconceptions surrounding depression.
It struck me that as a relatively abstract piece in the language, use of projections and mime, the set itself could be simplified. I loved the gesture of peeling back the loosely attached wallpaper to reveal collages of her dream children and husband; much like a child would in a scrap book. I thought this idea might be pushed further as it was a such a strong visual device to access her mind. I was a little disappointed to find it ended there and at the climax of the play really wanted her to go a step further and tear it all down!
As a whole, a combination of Dusette’s writing, and Thomas’s commitment to the role create a fully relatable, tragic and unconventional heroine. Scott Le Crass’s imaginative direction and use of space keeps the action fluid and exciting. It is interesting that though this character is completely exposed, we never hear her name, which poignantly signifies that this could be personal to anyone; and indeed it seemed to resonate with the entire audience.
I would recommend catching this production if you have been touched by mental illness.
Cancel the Sunshine is playing The Hope Theatre until 2 Apr 2016. For more information and tickets, see http://www.thehopetheatre.com/productions/cancel-the-sunshine/.