The Almighty Sometimes tackles the subject of mental health with a delicate yet intense hand and a fistful of Northern humour.
But before a review, a rant.
Mental Health. It’s still a taboo topic. In 2018?! People are afraid to talk about it. Yet I would argue that most of us suffer from it at some point in our lives. There’s a scale that we all sit on and it alters and slides depending on a lot of factors. But we’re afraid to open up in case of being hurt, embarrassed or bullied. It’s lonely.
It’s not given the same footing as physical health, which means the funding and attention is nowhere near the same. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. But is it really invisible when it affects some many visible behaviours? It can be absolutely debilitating. It can destroy motivation, energy levels can plummet and thoughts spiral.
One rule doesn’t apply to all either. There are many different diagnoses out there. The intensity and frequency of symptoms can vary from person to person. It’s a constant reminder that our mind is a complex organ. An utterly incredible organ but one that comes with its own challenges.
There’s a lack of education really. I think a lot of it comes down to that. Social acceptance would be a valued and important next step. But first people need to be made more aware, which will allow them to become more understanding and less judgemental.
This play takes that small step into openly talking about Mental Health.
After the rant, a play
Anna lives with her mum. She’s nearly 18 and ready to grow up, take control of her life and gain independence in the world. She’s sarcastic, creative and confident. Like every teenager, she has little patience and lots of opinions (which are always right by the way) But that’s the make up of all teenagers right? I know I felt like an adult at 18 even when, looking back, I definitely wasn’t!
The thing with Anna is that she also lives with mental health issues. She’s been on medication from the innocent age of 11. She’s never really known a life without drugs. Having been pretty stable for seven years, Anna starts to question if she needs help anymore. So she decides that it’s time to come off her meds and ‘feel’ again.
That is when you start to see her quick descent into darkness.
After the play, a review
The first half really sets the scene and establishes the characters. It’s light-hearted, intriguing and fast paced. The humour is on point. Anna’s boyfriend has a lot to thank for that. Mike Noble pitches the cheeky chappy attitude perfectly and his comedy timing is impeccable. The second half feels starkly different. The stage is bare, lighting is dark and dialogue is more monologue. It’s a dramatic representation of the isolation mental health can bring.
Anna slowly turns from a talkative typical teen into a hyper active, argumentative tyrant. She’s angry. Her thoughts fire from all cylinders. Her intensity increases along with her cruelty. It’s evident her behaviour becomes more troubling and upsetting. This behaviour seeps into her mother. Her mother has tried to protect her from a young age. She can read her daughter, knows the signs and shows real unconditional love through the best and worst times.
Norah Lopez Holden plays the role of Anna beautifully. She’s incredibly relatable and genuine. It’s refreshing to see such raw, young talent dominating, what I can only imagine is, an emotionally draining role. Julie Hesmondhalgh as her mother is a real class act. Endearing, witty and realistic. They may have a contrast in age and experience but together they produce a warming and electric performance.
After the rant and review, a thought
This play really got me thinking. And questioning. It reminded me of a Louis Theroux documentary that was about medicating children with mental health issues. He meets American parents who’s only hope is to drug their kids. He realises these parents are not lazy. They are the opposite. They work harder than most to understand their child. To support them and help them. It’s heart breaking and exhausting to watch.
Louis also explores the science behind mental health. He finds out that a lot of medication is trial and error. Doctors don’t really know the long term effects of drugs, or why and how they actually work. They have solid data but no hard evidence. This is even harder to medicate in children.
This play deals with all of those issues. Anna’s mother starts to question her own decisions. Was she right to drug her child? Were there enough signs to label her daughter? It’s a huge responsibility. The psychologist guides these but ultimately explains that there is no right or wrong. There aren’t really many facts either. Mental Health requires a hell of a lot more scientific investigation. As I said, the brain is a complex organ, but there is a light at the end.
The Almighty Sometimes is a compelling drama that is incredibly authentic, brave and challenging. There is no question why it won the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting.
Did you see this play? Would you like to? What are your thoughts on mental health?
The Almighty Sometimes plays at Royal Exchange Theatre until Saturday 24th Febraury