The Almighty Sometimes


By Kendall Feaver

Directed by Katy Rudd

Winner of The Bruntwood Prize for playwriting 2015 this play tackles a vital social issue regarding our approach to children’s mental health, and how we support and educate families coping with mental illness. Kendall Feaver has written a beautifully balanced play that looks at the pros and cons of medication. The Almighty Sometimes puts a spotlight on fraught and complex family situations by questioning if it is possible to find a balance where we enable young people to have their independence as they grow into adulthood and still ensure we safeguard vulnerable individuals.

The writing is always engaging and Feaver skilfully takes the audience into Anna’s world where there are no certainties. She is constantly checking out what What do you think of me? Anna is complex, full of confidence and bravado yet also crippled with fears over who she really might be or could be without her medication. Feaver ensures no character is one dimensional and our perceptions and loyalties are constantly shifting. Is her mother Renee doing her very best for her daughter or is she smothering and controlling? Martyr, monster or a Mum desperately navigating CAMHS, the cash strapped NHS adolescent mental health service? Psychiatrist Vivienne appears dedicated and professional, and emotionally invested in Anna. Yet does she know enough about the drugs she prescribes to an adolescent brain which is still in development? Is it ok to publish academic books and articles about your clients when confidentiality is sacrosanct in therapy, and when your subject is too young to give consent?

Katy Rudd has clearly invested a lot of care and sensitivity in this production. She has taken a great cast of talented actors and a wonderful new script and created something really sublime and special.

Julie Hesmondhalgh as Renee epitomises the energy and lifeforce of a woman trying to keep her child alive having witnessed the horror of her attempting suicide at age seven. After years of relative calm with the aid of psychiatry and medication she is distraught to find that fragile equilibrium shattered as Anna attempts to discover who she is without her medication. As always Hesmondhalgh lights up the stage with her earthy humour and wry intelligence. Sharon Duncan-Brewster is impeccable as the Child Psychiatrist heavily invested in her young client and torn by the therapeutic rupture created by NHS policy that demands Anna move on to Adult Services. Mike Noble is wonderful as the diffident, slightly bemused young suitor. His own troubled background and sense of shame or otherness ensure he “gets” Anna’s experience of being judged. The tragedy being he needs the nurturing of her mother Renee in his life more than he needs the increasingly unwell Anna. I have had to take care of people who should have been taking care of me- Why the fuck would I sign up for one more?

Norah Holden-Lopez continues to astound and is on a real trajectory building on her recent performances in Ghosts and in Our Town. She delivers a sensitive and powerful portrayal of bipolar disorder which is never mawkish or hysterical but is perfectly pitched throughout. She moves apparently effortlessly from a medicated Anna who is managing her move to adulthood with apparent aplomb to a vicious, fractured girl wounding and controlling those who love her with a calculated suicide attempt. In the second act Lopez-Holden is barely recognisable as she further splinters and fractures. It is a terrifying and haunting spectacle and her performance is electrifying.

Designer Susanna Vize has created a glistening, watery hexagon which evokes slippery precipices. A sense of little to cling unto and lots of swirling movement under the surface like the flow of mental processes. The swings descending from the ceiling bring a lightness as Anna and Oliver get to just hang out like any young couple but also reflect the up and down cycling of Anna’s mood as she stops her medication. As Anna floats up higher and higher she is further and further away from Oliver. This new Anna wants to feel lighter and freer but risks plummeting to the ground without treatment. The cage like trap which later surrounds her is sharp and brutal with slats of light splintering around her as though in the electric force field of her own mind. Lucy Carter and Giles Thomas use light and sound respectively to build on this sense of mental torment; jarring and discordant as they wound and disorientate. The overall effect is of the slicing of synapses creating new vivid ideas but also burning through and obliterating other thoughts and feelings.

In the U.K. a tiny 6% of health research is spent on mental health yet one in four of the population will experience some degree of mental health disorder leaving many families living on a precipice. What does a diagnosis mean for their child? A label that stays with their medical records and often defines and dictates their choices in life. What will be the side effects of the drugs, even if they work? What if therapy reveals something even more terrible in a family story? With a diagnosis of diabetes or heart disease or cancer we tend to readily accept any treatment that may bring about cure or maintain life. Sadly with mental health we often reject any help through fear of social stigma. My own mother, in the grip of depression actually asked me if I minded her accepting treatment in a psychiatric unit, yet had never thought to question her right to have treatment for cardiac issues. In a modern society it is horrific that mental health is not given the same value as our physical health.

This is a play with a difficult subject matter that contains some scenes that are uncomfortable or distressing to watch. It is also a play that informs and engages and has a lightness of humour and humanity running through it. It explores what form tenderness takes in the face of adversity. It may be a mother crushing pills into her child’s food to keep her child alive, or forcing her to gag after an overdose attempt or shaving her legs for her when she wants to feel pretty. Regardless of whether we choose medication or not, it is essentially about our human need to have someone there with us in the light and also in dark times. I don’t know where I am…..You’re with me.

Royal Exchange until 24th February 2018

Images by Manuel Harlan


The Royal Exchange 
Adapted for the stage by Chris Goode from the original screenplay by Derek Jarman and James Whaley 

Directed by Chris Goode 

The interior walls of the Royal Exchange Theatre are densely covered in graffiti. The music is ramped up – this is not Royal Exchange noise levels – this is JUBILEE. The stage is set with Toyah Wilcox at her dressing table as Queen Elisabeth I regally pondering the future. 

This is 40 years on from her anarchic role as Mads in the original Derek Jarman film. Having seen the original as a young teenager and promptly calling one of the family cats kittens after Toyah this feels like time travel for more than just Elisabeth I. Looking around the actual Royal Exchange  theatre it feels like we could be in a time travel machine. I half expected Amyl Nitrate and her girl gang to seal in the audience with barbed wire and Union Jack flag poles.

This adaptation by Chris Goode is faithful to the original film. The production is brought up to date by references to Cameron, Trump, Brexit and music tracks like Bad Girls by M.I.A but it maintains Jarman’s messy, anarchic “have a go” punk ethic. Adam Ant who played Kid in the original said Jarman was making it up as he went along. Goode is known as a director who likes to give actors space to develop and explore and this feels like an explosion of many ideas. This is not a cohesive piece of drama but is more a series of adrenaline shots fizzing round the space like Catherine Wheels. 

There are bodies copulating in various combinations, a brutish policeman is castrated, there is an autoerotic asphyxiation  murder, there is beautiful poetry, singing, dancing, political polemic and witty audience banter led by the brilliant Travis Alabanza. Chris Goode has staged a sort of A-Level drama exam take on an anarchic cabaret cabaret. Love it or hate it you won’t forget it.

There are some blistering moments like gems from the stolen crown hidden in an Aldi plastic bag by Bod. The scene looking out at all the tower blocks vividly alludes to Grenfall Towers as Sphinx describes the grey concrete towers of his childhood as an equally effective means of killing poor people as war.

The passionate rhetoric which bursts from Amyl Nitrate in the second half gives Travis Alabanza a perfect platform for their natural brilliance. This trans artist is perfectly cast and striding around in heels and Jackie Kennedy pearls and pink is both outlandish and endearing. This is the performance that both charms and terrifies in equal measure. The original performer in this role was Jordan who Jarman described as “art history as make-up”. Jordan was in Manchester this week for a Louder than Words event – I really hope she got to see this.

If there is a SPOILER ALERT  for Jubilee it is DON’T LEAVE at the interval because the first Act is overly long. The second act is a blistering finale where this “No Future” nihilistic polemic directly addresses those who remember the original film. If we were 15 back in 1977 then we have now been running the country for the last ten years. It is a sobering thought sitting in the Royal Exchange which recently had its 40 year anniversary watching Jubilee made nearly 40 years ago in 1978. 

As the performance ends Elisabeth I can hear the familiar sound of seagulls harking back to her seafaring adventurous era. However hopeful or hopeless we may feel under whatever political ideology we uphold or rail against, perhaps one certainty is seagulls swooping over stony shingle coastline. I’m sure Derek Jarman would not wish it any other way.

Royal Exchange 2-18 November


Image by Chris Payne


A Powder Keg and Royal Exchange Co-Production

Royal Exchange Studio

The stage looks like a rundown bear pen in a post- apocalyptic zoo. Despite the welcome mat this is clearly no cosy Bear home that Goldilocks has chanced upon. The Bears are styled in the fashion of Mad Max meets well worn patched up teddy bears. They are both bizarre and delightful as they set their dinner table to eat salt and peppered KitKat with knives and forks. These are civilised bears adopting human behaviours in a no longer civilised world.

We want people to see a piece that is about climate change without it preaching to them or without it fearmongering to the point where people just turn away from it. I think that is one of the main reasons a lot of people don’t focus on climate change as one of the overriding problems of the world.
Powder Keg won the 2016 Hodgkiss Award to develop this piece about climate change and conservation. It is not remotely preachy –  especially as the bears do not speak any words. It is however a humorous and at times enchanting look at the impact of consumerist waste. We may smile as the bears playfully try out a variety of aerosol deodorants then casually throw them away. We might be amused as they scramble through boxes of rubbish bearing high street brands like Cafe Nero or Starbucks. The message is however very clear. We have choked the planet with waste to the point where we have been extinguished and now the last animals left know nothing other than to emulate their destroyers.

The physicality and movement of the performers is deft, and effective in evoking the bears in their habitat. The cast have created 3 very watchable bears however the pacing needs some work as the middle 20 minutes flounders needing further dramatic development. The last section picks up pace and with a clever use of lighting and more of an already good soundscape it develops to a striking conclusion.

There are some beautiful moments as the bears play and scavenge and squabble. The most striking moment is perhaps the magical use of fairy lights. Ultimately so poignant and heartrending as they become like barbed wire enveloping  the tragic, bewildered animal.

The use of brightness and darkness works effectively to portray the last gasps of our technological world. The closing scene of the bears downsizing their home bangs home a powerful message about the shrinking icecaps. These bears are the natural descendants of those earlier cuddly eco creatures The Wombles. Sadly 40 years on and we seem to still need reminding that our planet remains in crisis.