When there is a play about anxiety, stress and emotion, how do a group like No Door Theatre represent these in a way that is engaging and unique? Simple: introduce two very over-the-top TV presenters working on a fake show – inside Annie’s head – watched by a fake audience consisting solely of Annie herself. The presenters have a Punch and Judy kind of relationship between them, representing the negative thoughts that Annie, the protagonist, has on a daily basis.
Ken and Kendra Kenderson are tasked with taking all the self-hate and negative thoughts that bottleneck in Annie’s mind, and delivering it through a vile and sadistic airtime rant about her worthlessness as a person; what a career. They constantly plague her life, feeding her wrong opinions of her best friend Bethany, as well as a boy who Annie manages to go on a date with. The Kendersons clearly revel in what they do, managing to perform in an exaggerated yet effective manner. They are an infectious, fiery presence onstage; the audience are utterly transfixed by them every time they appear, forever anxious to see what misery Annie will be subjected to next.
Stella Ryley is also suitably underwhelming as Annie. She is neither as dramatic nor invasive as her mind’s arrogant equivalent of Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby, but that is the point. Ryley magnificently exaggerates the helplessness of her situation, prisoner to her own anxiety and nervousness. Whether she is speaking to real people or her TV hosts, she cannot get the words out. Ryley conveys this helplessness so effectively that the audience feels a great degree of pity for her situation, especially when Ken and Kendra are at their most savage. The dynamic between the trio results in a great performance.
Annie has conversations with real people as well as in her own mind, which are always sparse in terms of dialogue. While this does portray the marked contrast between Annie’s head and reality, these moments of real conversation are nowhere near as effective as they should be. As the conversations feature so many one-worded sentences and a lack of movement, it is hard to engage with them beyond comparing them to Ken and Kendra. It is also not clear, for the same reasons, how the deteriorating relationship between Ken and Kendra mirrors or contributes to Annie’s feelings at any given point. In short, only so much can be deduced from so little.
The show has vast variations in pace, with the plot feeling much quicker whenever Ken and Kendra are let loose. When Annie is speaking with her best friend Bethany for the first time in the show, things suddenly become painfully slow. The play’s circumstances do become slightly more interesting later as hints of a changing relationship emerge, only for these to be put aside as Bethany becomes sidelined as a character towards the end of the show. Without more dialogue, and a clearer idea as to what the relationship between the friends is actually like (not how Ken and Kendra say it is), interest in the pair is lost.
The show has a number of imperfections, but fulfils its purpose. It leaves the audience thinking differently about mental health and their own manic TV presenter reeling inside their brains. Theatre is an effective platform for conversations about mental health, and An Evening With the Voices in Annie’s Head is a valuable addition to that conversation.
An Evening With the Voices in Annie’s Head
Paradise in Augustines (Venue 152)
Until 27th August
Image: No Door Theatre