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Some Riot Theatre’s Weird at Theatre503 | Review

Some Riot Theatre’s WeirdWeird, set in Bolton, sees Yasmin (Amy Doyle), 22 years young, returning home after a spell at university: whether or not she will return to finish her degree is up in the air, because of mental health issues. Except Yasmin’s mother, Jackie, has been going around saying that Yasmin has already graduated, presumably in order to keep up a façade of normality amongst her peer group. As Yasmin and a friend agree, such an approach is nothing short of “stupid”. But the audience is only hearing one perspective of this multi-faceted story: a whole range of characters, some substantially more developed than others, are introduced, from staff and regular customers at the “Bolton Tesco Express” – apparently there is only one – to her younger sister, Katie, who lashes out at her sibling because her obsessive-compulsive disorder is causing strains within the family.

Yasmin, it almost goes without saying, would rather not be the reason behind increased stress for other people. Indeed, she believes her actions are a continuous attempt to ‘protect’ her family. Yasmin is unfairly blamed for an incident involving Katie’s hamster. There may, arguably, have been a case for breach of duty of care, but as she has no alibi in any event, Yasmin is branded a culprit in what is deemed to be the latest occurrence in a long-running series of screw-ups.

It would be equally wrong, however, to deem the production as being one that indiscriminately yells, “It’s not fair!” Rituals and routines must be fulfilled every day in order for Yasmin to function. Not everything in Yasmin’s story is dramatized – just as well, as she describes bedroom activity with Ryan Chambers, a popular schoolboy, both “sensitive and studious”. I wondered if the borderline breakneck pace with which the show began would be sustained – I’m pleased to report it was.

As Yasmin is compelled to point out to her mother, she is ‘ill, not retarded’ – at a funeral for a friend, for instance, she knows she really must do everything possible to keep her emotions in check. Both this scene and an earlier one, a flashback to when she was six years old, are ultimately quite harrowing examples of how the thought processes of a person with OCD can have a lasting impact both on the person and on others close to them.

I return to the issue of the single perspective being offered. The audience does not hear directly from Katie or anyone else, only selective snippets of what they said. But what discussions went on between other family members whenever Yasmin was not in the same room? I note there are some videos with monologues from other characters on social media: could these have not been incorporated into the show proper? Further, I got the impression that Yasmin was seeking some form of external assistance, but this was not proving worthwhile. Some clarity as to the struggles she faced getting help would have enhanced understanding of the character, and of the support services that people who work in mental health say are at breaking point.

That said, it seems fair enough that there are no neat and tidy solutions (because, let’s be honest, there aren’t any). All things considered, it’s an intriguing and unusual play with a strong ‘fringe factor’. Or to put it another way, it’s a little bit Weird.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Told through flashbacks to the relationships that have shaped Yasmin’s life, Weird revolves around the effects of one person’s mental health on a whole family. Revisiting strained family relationships, experiences with high school bullies and the highs and lows of first love, the role that OCD has had in defining these pivotal moments quickly becomes clear.

Company Information
Written and produced by Lucy Burke
Cast: Amy Doyle


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