Brighton Fringe 2016
A play in six scenes about six different characters, written and acted by a man who has undergone various treatments for various mental illnesses himself and who has interviewed other people with the same and different symptoms. It was performed with humour, energy and songs. It is not a play about how awful it is to be mentally ill but a play which tries to get the audience to enter the minds of people with mental problems.
The play was full of the contradictions that afflict people with mental problems. It started with Chris, a schizophrenic, explaining to a lady who may or may not have been real, how the voices he hears are real even though people do not believe him. Aled suffered from anxiety and was told by his doctor to visit a centre which could help him but because of his anxiety he couldn’t go in. Eventually after a number of attempts and through much perseverance of character he did finally go in. This gave him the courage to talk to people about anxiety in much the same way that Augustus Stevens who has suffered from anxiety is now able to perform his play in front of strangers. Although having the courage to talk in front of strangers Augustus managed to show the incredible effort which had to be made by Aled to do it.
Another contradiction was that having gone to his doctor because he was terrified of going out Aled was told by the doctor to look up on the internet about things he could do to help himself. He wanted advice on how to get over his fear of going out and was told to stay in and look at a computer! Another theme running through was how the various characters could sometimes find it hard to get out of bed. One reason for this was not being able to make a decision about what to wear. One scene was played as a Yorkshireman doing stand up comedy but through it showing his vulnerabilities and fear of being judged. He also talked about the various drugs the characters had been given which had different effects on them, some good and some bad.
With a simple set of a chair and a couch which became a bed, Augustus Stevens bared his soul and at one point his body. He held our attention throughout. The characterisations were all very different. Larry, who had a bipolar disorder, thought he was an American detective but similar symptoms seemed to run through all the characters. There was quite a bit of humour in the dialogue especially in a very funny poem about the difficulty of eating a kebab without a knife and fork and not understanding why one is expected to do so. The characters were very believable on stage which I suppose comes from someone who has experienced the different physicalities of the various conditions. His eyes were extremely expressive showing all the fear and incomprehension in the characters’ lives. Augustus Stevens also played guitar and sang a few catchy songs describing the problems of mental illness and asking the audience to join in the chorus of the last one which the small audience did so happily. It was a lovely touch at the end asking audience members to say which character they liked the best.
A doctor friend of mine accompanied me and said she has seen so many people like the characters in the play and said their their problems were so common. I also chatted to a lady afterwards who had been in the audience whose husband had committed suicide after years of epilepsy. She said that he had had a high IQ before the drugs he was given but his IQ was destroyed by these same drugs. In this time where there is so much talk about disability cuts, this play shows the personal problems of people with mental problems facing everyday life. All this was done without asking for sympathy but just trying to get the audience to see life through the eyes Chris, Aled, Stanley, Gus, Doug and Larry.
This play deserves to be seen by more people and congratulations to Augustus Stevens for his performance and courage.