In the same week that the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre launched ‘Theatre Helpline’, a telephone and email service supporting people working in the theatre industry with issues relating to their health and wellbeing, seeing Section 2 could not have been timelier. The setting is a psychiatric facility, where Cam (Nathan Coenen) has been detained under Section 2 (geddit?) of the Mental Health Act 1983. Section 1, for those interested in such matters, defines what is meant by ‘mental disorder’. Where Section 2 is invoked (hence the term ‘being sectioned’), a person believed to be suffering mental disorder is kept in hospital for assessment and treatment for up to 28 days.
Kay (Alexandra Da Silva) and Peter (Jon Tozzi) are in a waiting area. The former is Cam’s girlfriend, the latter a school friend who was asked by Cam to visit, a point he (Peter) has to explain several times to an increasingly irrational Kay. Indeed, Kay’s conduct became so bizarre than I wondered whether the wrong person had been ‘sectioned’. Cam seemed to me, given his fairly regular inability to get his words out and his previous career in the Armed Forces, a person with a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. But then, as Peter says about himself, I’m no medical professional.
The play opens on the twenty-eighth day of Cam’s 28-day hospital stay. Rachel (Esmé Patey-Ford), Cam’s ‘key worker’, drops a bombshell on Peter and Kay, and therefore on Cam himself. After Section 2 comes Section 3, which leaves Cam detained for up to six months. Unlike Section 2, a Section 3 detention can be renewed. Kay goes utterly ballistic. Having already called Peter a ‘see you next Tuesday’, she starts hurling all sorts of ridiculous and slanderous accusations against Rachel.
It might have made for good theatre if it was nuanced, at least to some extent, or if there was an element of dark humour, or some variation or other to break the monotony. The screamathon (for that it what it was) went on for far too long, and whilst in progress, Kay refused to listen to anyone else, but everyone else must listen to her, and even when she was wrong, she was right. Any sense of sympathy for the character is incinerated long before she has finished her melodramatic (and frankly, very boring) rant. Even before this display of shallow vacuity, she is dismissive of Cam for answering the question, “Do you want anything?” with “Inner peace”. What’s wrong with wanting inner peace?
Thank goodness that the other three characters are the polar opposite of one-dimensional. For once the medical worker is defended as someone who knows what she is talking about, rather than portrayed as some sort of bumbling idiot, and the play attempts to explore mental health issues without lazily blaming everything that isn’t as it should ideally be on the Government. Peter indulges Cam in childhood recollections; they seemed to have a far better time at secondary school than most people. Rachel, meanwhile, has established such a good rapport with Cam that during a conversation about tea-making, it was easy to forget that Cam was a patient receiving treatment for mental health issues.
As Rachel points out, there are other patients who don’t have, for instance, people who visit them, and for them, their rehabilitation process is much harder. It would have been good to have included one or two characters who must struggle on their own. The show ends too abruptly to be fully satisfying: the incomplete narrative leaves so many questions unanswered that the production itself comes across as a piece of theatre that needs more work. Still, there was some educational value in learning about mental health legislation, and what rights are available to people who are ‘sectioned’.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Drawn from a personal experience of our playwright who’s childhood friend was sectioned under the mental health act, ‘Section 2’ is a part verbatim piece exploring the idea of what it means to be sectioned and how we process and aid the recovery of those afflicted.
‘Section 2’ hones in on an aspect of mental health that is rarely addressed in theatre; sectioning. The discussions surrounding mental health tend to focus depression and anxiety but not so much about the process of recovery for the patient and the fight for care between loved ones and those working alongside them.
Director: Georgie Staight
Playwright: Peter Imms
Set Design: Justin Williams
Sound Design: Benjamin Winter
Movement Director: Amy Warren
Kay: Alexandra Da Silva
Cam: Nathan Coenen
Pete: Jon Tozzi
Rachel: Esmé Patey-Ford
The Bunker Theatre, 53a Southwark Street
London, SE1 1RU