Disorder

Theatre, C Venues – C Nova, Venue 145, 14:30 until 31st August.

Disorder is a harrowing re-telling of bipolar disorder and its impact on a woman and her family and child, based on the childhood experiences of one of its writers (Joey Thurston & Cameron Lintott).

Performed in a small room, on arrival eerie music plays in the background, and the actors are already in position, like living statues. A woman is seated at a table at back left, a door stands towards the middle of the stage, and a man at the front of the stage mumbles words from the book open in his hands.

This character, Mr Johnson (John Kelly), who functions in the play as narrator, bogeyman-delusion, and the employer, introduces us to the play and to the central character, Alice (Beth Graham).

Alice is the woman at the table, in a mental hospital, being visited by her son, William (Joey Thurston). They talk, awkwardly, and at times frankly, about what has happened. This is interspersed by flashbacks to scenes from their previous family life, which tell the story of her manic episodes. Theirs is a loving family and her husband, James (Ben Williams), and son try to support her but the family splinters under the strain. The conclusion of the play takes the audience by surprise and is in some ways reminiscent of a cult-classic that also deals with mental illness: “A Beautiful Mind”.

Mr Johnson is performed brilliantly: a cruel puppeteer in both Alice’s working and family life. Whether this is intended as a metaphor for the delusions that accompany Alice’s illness or whether we are to see him as a hallucination is unclear. His ambiguous status as both business figure and mental illness incarnate, as well as the parallels the play draws between boom and bust and the ups and downs of bipolar disorder are interesting references to the links between capitalism and mental health problems.

Joey Thurston acted the part of William well, smoothly transitioning from discussions with his mother as a young adult to using body language to portray his character as a small child.

Alice’s character was a difficult one to play and she certainly came across as a woman tormented by her illness, but Beth Graham’s performance needs some fine-tuning if the audience is to see her as her character rather than as an actor. The performance of her husband James was unconvincing, however, and made several family scenes hard to believe.

This is an interesting play and Kincaid Productions deserve credit for this attempt to increase discussion of mental health; and for what appears to be their first Fringe performance, it is a good effort. It certainly encourages the audience to engage further and learn more about mental illness. However, at points the plot risks blurring the lines between different types of mental illness and exacerbating stereotypes. Further, given the serious nature of the content of this show, a trigger warning before entry, perhaps including information on bipolar disorder, would be advisable.

Image courtesy of the Disorder facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/disorderfringe

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