A generous helping of gratuitous expletives (mostly beginning with f), flashing coloured lights, some pointless dancing, a bit of mime and slo-mo, cast dressed in black and a dollop of a cappella to wind it up – yes, you’ve guessed it: this is a piece of student drama dressed up as a Very Serious Play About Insanity.
There’s no doubt the cast are having a good time performing Chris Mayo’s play and for sure had a wonderful time developing the piece in rehearsal – “hurtling through twenty-two scenes, the six actors play over forty characters” we are told. In seventy-five minutes. One new character for the audience to absorb every two minutes or less. That’s asking a lot – too much – making the show a series of non-sequiturs which can be played “in any order” according to the script. So, whoopee, no need for any plot to tie down the actors in that boring old exploration and exposition shtick: fun is the order of the day. Which means the show becomes a kind of a Drama School in-joke-athon.
The seminal work on mental disorder is Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis (first produced, a year after her death, in 2000). In My Head is heavily influenced by it in format and structure: there’s even a paraphrased lift from Kane’s text in the Panic Attack scene which also involves actors playing the part of, er, actors, a nod to all those Metatheatre references on the drama course adding to the feeling of a cosy luvvies-in where the themes have become subservient to the process and the audience isn’t that important. Six actors in search of a good time, perhaps.
The thrust stage presented its own problems of sight-lines and audibility. When characters had their backs to whichever section of the un-raked audience they weren’t facing, they were very difficult to hear – except for Paul Huntley-Thomas (very o-t-t as Gameshow Host/various) – projection not being high on the agenda for the others apparently (what are they teaching at East 15 these days?). Added to this the audience had to fight against the constant high-octane babble emanating from the adjacent bar at the Proud Archivist, accompanied by loud music. This may be de rigueur for Stand-up but for theatre there’s a need for more effective sound-proofing. And the professionalism of the company was further undermined by a forty-five minute delay in the start time with an easyJetesque lack of explanation or apology.
Holly Mallett (Sarah/various) is the stand-out performer of the troupe, able to garner some distinction between the various characters she is playing: I daresay she would appreciate, next time, having just the one meaty role to get her teeth into. Louise Trigg, Elin Doyle and Dan Burman strive to make some headway with their multiplex personalities whilst Matt Lim seems to be along for the ride. The writer also directed the show – which rarely works: writers just hate to cut their favourite lines and the piece is littered with puerile one-liners that a more detached director may well have binned. Some of the dialogue – “I want my wife back” – appears to have been retrieved from the cutting room floor of EastEnders and again might well have benefitted from the perspective of a director not so personally involved in the creation of the script. And Gnarls Barkley singing Crazy as the outro was more than one cliché too far following the student comfort blanket of the TV Gameshow scene that preceded it.
As for the expletive count: 63 f*cks, a smattering of wanks, a few pricks and a couple of c*nts produced a first for me: outside the auditorium, as well as a strobe notice, there was also a warning about “bad language”. But I didn’t clock the self-indulgence warning.
Review by Peter Yates
A new play by Chris Mayo
“It’s seen as a flaw, a weakness, people don’t understand it, people are scared of what they can’t see.”
Hurtling through twenty-two scenes, six actors play over forty characters in Chris Mayo’s striking new play. A bold, loud, funny, angry, touching and honest portrayal of mental health in the modern world. IN MY HEAD is a part verbatim, part fictional exploration of those who struggle, those who help and those who fail to notice.
The Proud Archivist
2-10 Hertford Road, London, N1 5ET