Making theatre about mental health is utterly vital within the student community. More theatre needs to be produced about it, more needs to be seen and more needs to be written.
Using theatre within university as a medium to remove stigma, initiate conversation, and change perception is a thing to be celebrated. Writing this, I feel the overarching point should be made that making any form of art concerning mental health is an admirable feat, and one that should be pushed further into the limelight of student theatrical productions.
In the face of this, it therefore seems slightly futile to critique Big Mind Theatre’s production Mind-Full from the perspective of theatrical merit. The piece’s objective, as stated clearly by actors bracketing the production with statements of intent, is to affirm that mental illness by no means defines a person, nor should it be something to conceal or stigmatise. In this sense, the piece was entirely successful.
The production itself revolves around the use of verbatim theatre, reconstructing accounts of mental health submitted by sufferers throughout the student community. The formatting and presentation of this dialogue, however, is where I feel the piece suffers. The format of monologues followed by blackouts feels achingly desperate for dynamism, whether visually, aurally or structurally.
Through this, it unfortunately feels at times as though the piece undermines itself in its fulfilment of a checklist of archetypal characteristics a student theatre piece concerning mental health would have. The cast wearing matching paint-splattered t-shirts, the placement of a scarcely used table centre stage or the repetitive nature of the monologues, for example, all contributed to a slightly unfortunate sense of predictability within the production.
Somewhat underdeveloped artistic decisions from blocking to delivery seemed to impress a sense of incompleteness to the piece, making serious subject matter sometimes get lost in the shadow of its narrative formatting. Actors, for example, are consistently planted centre stage for monologues of ten or so minutes, which feels as though it is less of an intentional decision and more of a by-product of lack of direction.
Moments of success within the production seem to stem directly from the words themselves found within the verbatim as opposed to its presentation, though at times, actors such as Angus Gavan McHarg and Jo Hill found time and space within their text to create memorable moments of intimacy and vulnerability with the audience.
It seems overall that the production falls victim to its own desire for transparency, with the simplicity of directorial decisions made giving ‘Mind-Full’ an unfortunate sense of lethargy.
The verbatim curated, as well as the exploration of the subject matter at hand is, however, its strength. I say we should all be following suit in creating more work so explicitly covering issues of mental health.
Runs 19th and 20th November
Photo Credit: Michael Black