Edinburgh Fringe 2019
A musical examining mental health, addiction and recovery challenges.
“I’m battered and bruised and I’m covered in dust and I’m rusted. I’m shattered, abused and about to combust and I’m rusted.” So goes the theme song for the very powerful new musical, Rust. It is an hour of examining mental illness, addiction and recovery, told in the voices of both the patients and those who treat them.
We meet the residents in a rehabilitation facility as they deal with their demons. Evie is the main character that we follow. She sees monsters under her pillow. She is constantly being examined by doctors and doesn’t understand why she is in the centre. The reality is that she has an eating disorder and can’t manage it. She says, “I’m not ill, I’m rusting”, hence the title of the play. We follow her as she tries to form relationships with other patients, who range from young to old, from an alcoholic young mom to a cynical, middle-aged drag queen (“I wasn’t born depressed but I was born queer”) to ones with OCD and anxiety. Some are returning patients. They are at various stages of recovery.
We learn more about the other residents as the express themselves in circle sessions. The program is based on the 12-steps in Alcoholics Anonymous, but that only works if the people in treatment buy into the ideas. The psychiatrist bemoans the last of proactivity for people with additions or challenges. “If everyone got help when they first needed it, I would be out of a job.” She hopes that when people leave the institution, they will be changed inside.
The piece addresses the need for mental health funding and counseling. According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. Globally, more than 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression. It will be leading cause of global burden by 2030. Yet only a small percentage of government health budgets are dedicated to treating mental illness. The narrator in the play reminds us that we have just ten years to turn things around.
The script is topical. It pulls at your heart, as you have hope for each of the characters to conquer their demons. The work is exciting, innovative, and challenging. The musical compositions are high enough quality to head to Broadway. The singers are strong and harmonize beautifully in a cappella numbers. The talented band members play flute, keyboards, guitar, bass, clarinet and sax, and are well-conducted. The acting is convincing and effective, although at times I had to strain to hear some lines as the actors turned away from the audience into circle sessions. With a bit more polish, this musical could follow in the footsteps of Tony Award winner “Dear Evan Hansen”.
Rust is a new, original musical from the Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society (CUMTS). This company produced the West-End smash hit SIX last year, which is now heading to Broadway. It has become a breeding ground for innovative work and new talent. Many luminaries are alums of CUMTS: Ian McKellan, Griffith Rhys Jones, Emma Thompson, Rachel Weisz, Sacha Baron Cohen, Michael Redgrave, Derek Jacobi, and many more. The young gifted actors in Rust have a very bright future.