A lot of us have problems, and the majority of us are hesitant in speaking about them. These problems manifest themselves in such a large variety of ways that their validity is constantly found to be up for debate by society. These problems are then validated or reduced to nothing by people around you, people that you do not know and who do not know you. Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands dismantles mental illness, through its lens, mental illness is not a problem but a part of life that simply needs to be handled better, with more societal compassion and support.
This affecting, deeply moving play, written by Melissa Dunne, is immersive in nature. Tricia Wey becomes Lou, our narrator for the evening. Confronting the stereotypes surrounding mental health and its tendency to cater toward young, thin white females, Lou argues in the name of expanding one’s understanding of what goes on inside our heads.
Dunne’s focus on diversity is key, current discussions surrounding mental health are ultimately missing and endangering the lives of people of colour, such as is Lou’s experience, by not catering to the specific needs of those other than the aforementioned ‘normal’. On the other hand, the catering toward those with a ‘model’ image is damaging toward said people, as they are then in fact not taken seriously. It is a double-edged sword, and Dunne is not afraid to use it to cut.
Wey’s role is the most confusing out of the four actors. If unaware of the play’s motives, one may be misled into believing Wey to be its author rather than an embodiment of a writer using theatre to work out their internal struggle. The contemporary mode of performance is explained in its epilogue as the character of Lou is interviewed by her presumed therapist, a role taken on by multiple actors (Wey, Josie Charles, Joe Eyre and Hamza Siddique share roles throughout). Lou recounts her need to break down her feelings of anger, frustration, confusion and loss (to name but a few emotions) in a way that is universal, by involving the audience in an aggressively meta discussion.
However, I worry that this approach instead has an adverse effect, making the audience feel removed if they are unable to connect, inducing guilt if the feelings portrayed onstage, and toward them, are not matched or related to inside their own minds. Yet perhaps, that’s my unwillingness and discomfort surfacing in the face of an unspoken or frequently taboo subject.
If we do not talk about mental illness in an upfront manner, as Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands does, we shall always feel uncomfortable when faced with its truth.
Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands is playing at The Vaults Festival until the 16 February. For more information and tickets, see the VAULT Festival website.