‘Going Slightly Mad’ is a compelling dissection of NHS psychiatric treatment. Michael Hajiantonis, its writer and director, based the play on his own experiences of being sectioned. It left me desperate to learn more about its topics. However, the performance has considerable acting and staging issues.
Lizzie Lewis plays Max, who doesn’t know why she has been sectioned. From the beginning, her delivery stalls because the actors aren’t properly noticing what the other actors are doing. It looks like they have a fixed idea of what they are going to do and carry it out no matter what the others give them to work with. Many dialogues don’t flow at all. It is later on, when she acts alone or with one other actor that her acting ability shines. She develops a feral characterization – and when she is wordlessly injected with tranquilizer clonazepam against her will and has hands clamped around her face, she brilliantly expresses her character’s fear and rage.
The rest of the actors are versatile, playing both patients and medical staff. Tilly Botsford plays Anna, a patient who is an artist. Botsford delivers Anna’s creative, invigorating words well. However, both she and Charlie O’Brien have very low energy for most of the play. They look like they’re waiting for the scenes to end, and invest little into characterization. Their delivery often feels rushed and in staccato, and their scene changes seem unnatural and awkward. The scenes where the patients sit in the living room drag on because of this.
Levi Mattey is a joy to watch. His Leon is strong and rough, but sweet. He has a south London accent and always speaks as though he’s delivering the ultimate truth. He has the most enchanting smile, and shuttles between offering drugs to telling Max, ‘You are the star. You are the lion.’ When he tells Max that they have nothing in common except the air that they breathe because of their class, I was so disappointed. I had grown fond of him.
Watson gives James an ethereal, melancholy quality. Her hugely expressive eyes lend a window into a reserved character. Her speech is ancient and timeless. She is excellent as the two nurses. When her tired nurse character tells Max that where she is from psychosis is seen as a blessing, she encapsulates the overworking of NHS staff and the oversimplifying of psychosis. Watson becomes her characters and has theatrical control of her entire body.
The set is intriguing. The chairs are psychedelic, and on the wall is a board with an eye and symbols drawn onto it. It looks a bit like a Hawaiian beach restaurant, and I think this needs to be tuned down. The tech is brilliant. Colourful lights flash with unreliable rhythm, creating a confusing atmosphere that reflects the nature of psychosis-the audience doesn’t know what is real and what is not. Myriad songs are played overhead, showing how music constantly interacts with everything. The script is excellent, charting Max’s unexpected relationships with the other patients and keeping answers out of the way. The characters constantly make decisions, and it is utterly uncertain which decision is right for them.
I saw this production’s first staging in October 2018, and it was better back then. I’m not sure what led to the change. However, it shows great potential.
Going Slightly Mad runs until the 16th of August – buy tickets here.