Anna is 18 and, while she hasn’t gone to uni or really figured out a plan at all, she wants to take control of her life. Part of this includes no longer taking the medication she’s been on for her entire adolescence in order to reclaim an earlier, more authentic version of herself. This isn’t a decision just for her, though, as a new boyfriend, her mother, and her long-term psychiatrist complicate the practicalities of mental health and being unwell.
Mental health is not a foreign concept in the arts community and every year seems to bring a great understanding and acceptance of mental conditions. What it means to be unwell, to be stigmatised and othered, and to feel out of control of your body and mind is a fraught state of being that playwright Kendall Feaver brings to the stage with breathtaking care.
This new script is excellently crafted to navigate the highs and lows of mental health and stability from both within the unwell person’s perspective and from the position of those who love and care for her, as well. Add the dimension of blooming adulthood and the horrible doubts about talent and self-worth that most artists face, and Feaver has created something both familiar and brand new.
Anna, played by Brenna Harding, is complicated and conflicting as only 18-year-olds can be, but she is painted with a curiosity and passion for life that bursts from her. Brenning, plays the breathless moments of mania incredibly persuasively only to crash into the ground in a moment of hesitation at the flip of a serotonin receptor. Anna is fully portrayed as much more than her illness but as also her dreams and worries and desires. Brenning is a force in every scene and you will walk away loving her.
Her support team, her mother Renee (Hannah Waterman) and psychiatrist Viv (Penny Cook), are opposing winds in a storm of medical jargon and uncertainty. Waterman, in particular is staggering in her representation of the devastation a loved one can wreak in one’s life. The final reckoning of her narrative erasure in her daughter’s story is heartbreaking.
Cook and Shiv Palekar, playing Anna’s new boyfriend, similarly add great humanity to the limitations of their characters’ positions and the way they are intertwined and also dwarfed by Anna’s central story.
The set is simple, a table in a white room, and allows the people on stage to claim all attention. This doesn’t mean neglect of the other aspects of the production, especially in the lighting design by Daniel Barber, where single strobes and snap-blacks are reinvented and reinvigorated as story-telling techniques. Lee Lewis’s direction with overlapping scenes and entrances keeps the pace of the production quick and often left the audience out of breath, in sync with the action on stage.
“Who are we really” and “what made us that way” are questions we all grapple with, especially at significant life milestones when the road forks more clearly than ever. For someone suffering from an unexpected and unexplainable medical condition, whether manifested in the mind or body (or both), the “what if”s are shattering. Feaver masterfully poses the questions “who are you” and “who could you have been” while equally consoling that there is no answer, only more choices.
All aspects of this production are skilfully and beautifully assembled to create one of the most powerful performances of the year. This show is incredible and you really must see it.
The Almighty Sometimes is playing at Griffin Theatre from August 3rd – September 8th.