Based on a true story, this play follows Max (Lizzie Lewis) who has just been sectioned under the mental health act. Only Max knows she is not mad. She she may be on some kind of reality TV show, she may have mind altering powers to control other people, she may be God or a god. But she is definitely not mad.
Locked away with four other supposedly mad people, all waiting in this Short Term Assessment Centre; waiting for a bed to open up at a mental health facility. It is Max against the system.
The support cast each play three roles, a fellow patient, a medical staff member and a family member.
Anna (Tilly Botsford) has bipolar, this is not her first time being sectioned. James (Amelia Watson) is heavily medicated and stares vacantly into the middle distance. Joey (Charlie O’Brien) is easily influenced and believes all the conspiracy theories and delusions offered by everyone else. Leon (Levi Mattey) is defensive and possibly has drug induced psychosis.
Max talks to one of the night staff and asks what is going on. The staff member tells her “you are sensitive to things others are not, that is why you are in here”.
Later, Jane tells her “you haven’t lost the plot, you have just stumbled upon it.”
So is she mad? Or is she just seeing things differently? In other times and cultures, people who heard voices were seen as having a special gift of being able to talk to god; they were given roles as Shamen or witch doctors. In other settings they were seen as creative people – artists or actors; people able to express things in an out of the box kind of way. Although there are mentions of this in the play, what is seen time and again is the characters being restricted. Don’t change the TV channel, don’t open the window, don’t decide your own bedtime, take these pills, be calm, be quiet, be normal.
I thought about the treatment model of R. D. Laing in the 1960’s where he lived with people as they experienced their delusions without any anti-psychotic drugs. I thought about Paul Rebillot who created the Hero’s Journey model of therapy after experiencing his own episode of psychosis. I thought about the many ways of working with people with psychosis which remember that they are still people and treat them with kindness. I longed for more of the staff members to show attunement.
Anna describes her own struggle with Bipolar, where being down is “like falling through a trampoline into a mine shaft lined with Lego bricks”. For Anna the difference between the highs and the lows of her condition are huge. And depression “sadness is beautiful in it’s own way, like a wilted flower. Depression is like a wasteland – nothing grows there”.
The play draws to an end introducing a new character – a dramatherapist. As the cast slunk lower in their chair and groaned in the way many clients do when first entering dramatherapy I found myself beaming and sitting up tall.
The dramatherapist told them a story about a cracked pot; it may not carry as much water but it does water the ground and allows the flowers to grow.
During the story the characters begin to make eye contact and to smile.
We are not all the same but we are still people. Whatever someones physical health or mental health we still have the need for connection, kindness and respect.