There is no need for an elaborate set, complicated lighting design or gimmicky sound effects, as Mark Lockyer stands on a threadbare rug to relive vividly and emotionally his astonishing journey to an enraptured audience. Living with the Lights On is storytelling at its best. With the all-encompassing skill of an experienced and accomplished raconteur, Lockyer narrates the tale of a life changed for good by an onslaught of mental illness – and it’s a story that needs to be told.
Though he enters the unadorned space in the Young Vic alongside the audience, ushering people to their seats, casually fetching coffees and HobNobs, Lockyer soon takes charge and eases the audience in with an almost-apologetic background precis of the production process, before launching into an impressive, energy-filled performance.
With moments of sheer hilarity throughout, his well-structured and true-to-life monologue is never too far away from risible anecdotes and metanarratives, though we are certainly taken on a journey of our own through Lockyer’s words. We meander from an entertainingly revealing and idyllic-seeming beginning as Lockyer is offered a part in an RSC production of Romeo and Juliet, through frank recollections of suicide attempts, infidelity and pyromania.
His descriptions of the telling realities of being a pawn in the game of chess that is the mental health system give a much-needed insight into everyday troubles those outside the system would never normally know about: lack of bed space, suicide attempts come to fruition, sometimes inefficient treatment plans, and the need for compassion and support rather than custodial sentences.
What really commands the attention of the audience is not the poignant renditions of the extreme lows Lockyer describes undergoing in his periods of manic depression. Instead it is the way he, as a creative, is now able to take an objective stance and find humour, albeit sometimes dark humour, in what he experienced.
Though there are tear-jerking moments in abundance throughout the performance, the tale seems to have a happy and uplifting ending, and looks to a hopeful future for Lockyer as well as anyone going through their own mental health battles. We are left with the message that it is possible to quell our inner demons and accept that we can overcome them to get another shot at living.
What could be a tragic soliloquy is instead a compelling and emotionally-stirring performance, which will resonate with all who watch it. Without the need for embellishments, decoration or adornments, Lockyer is able to control a space and command the attentions of an audience, with just the incredible power of his story. It’s hard not to be inspired.
Living With the Lights On is playing The Young Vic until December 23.