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Mind Full at The Hope Theatre

Both Claire (Katherine Moran) and James (Tom Hartwell) are sleep-deprived, and it’s not on account of a new-born baby, even if the length of their relationship has certain friends and relatives questioning whether they’re going to start a family and/or tie the knot. But the causes aren’t so much the concern in this production as the consequences – and they are far-reaching. Both of them have enjoyed successes in the entertainment industry (she’s a voiceover artist, he’s a stand-up comedian), and their lack of sleep manifests itself in darkly comical ways.

Mind Full - Photo credit: Rebecca Rayne.
Mind Full – Photo credit: Rebecca Rayne.

As their respective thinking processes are blurred, she does so badly at an audition that the casting director decides there and then not to invite her for a call-back, and he cuts an already brief stand-up set short, having muddled his own narrative to the point where he feels the best way out of his mess is to wrap up rather than keep digging. That was, in a sense, quite admirable – to know when to stop instead of embarrassing oneself even more.

James’ comedian career helps to keep things relatively light-hearted – a show about sleep deprivation could, for instance, explore what happens when someone loses concentration, however momentarily, at the wheel, or working in a factory. The issue itself is given serious consideration, even if it is regularly in a humorous context. Claire is unhappy about receiving a long, rambling voice note at three in the morning from James, who has evidently had much to drink. Elsewhere, the use of sleep apps, which are supposed to help its users relax, almost inevitably included some sounds which had the opposite effect. I’d give you an example or two but it would be giving too much away.

It’s one of those shows in a small pub theatre that selectively uses a microphone, though here the point of its use is clear, whether it’s to help recreate a stand-up gig environment or to ensure the audience can hear a quiet, in-bed conversation, amongst other things. After their relationship goes sour, it’s a struggle for James, who can’t pop out to the supermarket without hearing Claire’s recorded voice on the self-service checkouts, such is her high-profile voiceover career. This sort of thing does happen in real life – Emma Clarke, a voiceover artist who used to record announcements for London Underground, has confessed to being annoyed by her own voice, particularly when she rings a company, and she hears herself telling her to hold for the next available agent.

Thanks to hallucinations (that word is never actually used in the show), it’s not always immediately clear if a given chain of events is the result of a character’s over-imagination or not. The discerning audience knew this was a tactic to mimic the relatively confused state of a sleep-deprived person, and the level of confusion was, I thought, perfectly balanced, just enough to maintain intrigue but not to the point of wanting to disengage with the production.

There are a lot of scenes to get through in this briskly-paced show, or at least it seemed that way – from my vantage point, the number of exits and entrances in a two-hander was noticeable. A subplot about what should and shouldn’t be said in terms of personal experiences in a stand-up set provides further depth to the characters. Without an iota of preachiness about which tactics to tackle sleep deprivation work better than others, this lively and charming play tackles contemporary issues with warmth and wit.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

In a lifetime the average person sleeps for twenty-six years…
James suffers from insomnia post-breakup and his ex-partner Claire is the voiceover for his Mindfulness app.
Mind Full is playwright Tom Hartwell’s humorous and disarming new play that brings the importance of sleep health into the spotlight.

Through a unique blend of theatre and standup comedy, Mind Full highlights the risks sleep deprivation causes to our emotional, physical, and mental health. This piece also addresses the ever-changing political landscape surrounding comedy and censorship.

a new comedy/drama from TOM HARTWELL
In association with THE SLEEP CHARITY
performances 3rd – 11th MARCH

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