Startlingly, suicide is the biggest killer of males under the age of 45. The shockwaves of such an incomprehensible statistic leaves a firm instruction in its wake: that more conversation must be undertaken about depression and mental illness in order to understand the phenomena. The timeliness therefore of the inventive, debate-prompting Serotonin – a theatrical product from the imagination of Millin Thomas – is certainly a welcome one.
It is a bold project and particularly so as Thomas has not only written this intriguing work; he stars in it. Striking something of a hybrid between straight-up conventional dialogue and poetic soliloquies straight out to the audience, it is certainly ambitious.
We open with an intoxicated Jack Connolly (Thomas) at a pub and on the prowl for more alcohol to feed his addled state. He is due to attend an interview at McDonald’s, but this appears to be the least of his concerns. Pouncing upon an unattended pint, he staggers and slurs around the establishment before off-duty nurse Sarah (Billy Madden) engages him. She takes his number, but this is no romantic exchange. She is concerned. Soon, we find Sarah and Jack reunited in a mental hospital. She is working, and, he is admitted as a patient after an attempt that he made on his own life.
He quickly strikes up a friendship with fellow patient Alfie (Teddy Robson). Alfie is clearly ravaged by a deep mental illness that is inexorable in its impulses. With such a minimal, chamber piece set-up, the narrative locks focus on passionate discussions about religion, spirituality and the meaning of life. For all of the prima facie triteness of these topics, there are glistening moments of crystal clear insight and refreshing originality. In particular, the poetic dispatches weave compellingly through tricky rhyming cadences, which thankfully match their stylish sonorous chime with substance.
For all of the positives, this is not a perfect work. The story puts too much focus on the ‘after’ and the road to recovery, when more time on the ‘before’ and the descent into depression would not only enhance the power of the message, but the contextualisation would generate greater emotional currency; empathy as well as sympathy. As a whole, Serotonin falls short of Michael Wall’s inimitable Women Laughing; itself a play that courted issues of mental health and one that has lost none of its power despite being close to thirty years old.
Aside from the quibbles outlined, there is much to trumpet and to celebrate. This production is a signpost for a collection of bright new lights on the theatrical landscape and it is fearless in contemplating topical issues. Society’s taboos and stigmas should be challenged and whilst Serotonin is flawed, it has enough in its armoury to offer a powerful, thought-provoking comment on the delicate topic of mental health.
Review by Greg Wetherall
Serotonin is a play set in the smoking area of a psychiatric hospital. Three people smoke there, for three different reasons.
Jack has depression. He tried to kill himself and is resentful that he failed. Alfie has bipolar disorder, and relies on the support around him to stop him from losing control. Sarah? She must be normal – she works there.
Digging deeper, we find that there’s more to our three characters than how their medical history defines them. Jack is an addict, used to numbing his niggling lack of self-confidence with alcohol – and would kill for a drop on the inside as he struggles to cope in an unfamiliar world. Alfie grew up in a testosterone-filled family, and is consequently struggling to come to terms with his own masculinity (or perceived lack of it). Sarah became a social worker to deal with her own family trauma, hoping that by helping others it may alleviate her guilt.
Over the course of our narrative, with the use of spoken word poetry, we invite the question of medication versus spirituality, and society’s current mental health perspectives, attempting to encourage an important conversation regarding male suicide and its prevalence in modern times.
Writer: Millin Thomas
Director: Rowan Jacobs
Script Editor: Amy Poole
Jack: Millin Thomas
Alfie: Teddy Robson
Sarah: Billy Madden