Mental health is a tricky subject to tackle and you wouldn’t think you could make a play about it, which could make you feel every emotion possible, yet still lead you to burst out in to tears of laughter, whilst somehow resisting the urge to roll on the floor laughing.
I’ll be honest, I was initially reticent about sponsoring 0 Days Without Crying, as I feared it would take me back to the dark place I have occupied at various times of my life in my constant battle with anxiety and depression. Despite all of this, I was determined to do what I could to spread the word online and offline.
Indeed in the weeks up to the show, I tested the patience of all those involved in 0 Days Without Crying. Should I sponsor it? Should I go? Do I want to be seen? Is it really appropriate to hold it in a pub? I have enough going on in my life, do I need to add something else to it?
The only thing that was keeping me sane was constant pictures of cats. As anyone who follows my consultancy on social media, you may get the impression I am slightly obsessed by cats and you’d be right!
As soon, as I arrived on Wednesday April 11th 2018, weirdly despite the nature of the play I felt at ease. I quickly downed a pint (the lowest strength one) and then took up a mango juice for the play. The Landor_Space deserves all the plaudits it gets for helping creating this environment.
I’d never seen the name of my consultancy in a program before, alongside much more illustrious and impressive people, so to open up the program and see my name there was heartwarming. I gave myself (hopefully an imaginary fist bump).
There was one just off-putting thing as I decided how near to the front I would sit. I felt like I walked in to the life of a student, with crisp packets, clothes, dressing gowns and every other form of detritus you could think of strewn everywhere. This was very close to the knuckle, given my worst ever moment with my mental health happened in my last year at Leeds University, when after 6 months of living off Haribo and stale sandwiches whilst not properly cooking, I felt like a zombie. At the same time, I spent every waking hour at the Edward Boyle Library trying to avoid my house at Hyde Park, due to one particular hellish housemate. I nearly did something very stupid in that year and the setting of the play with its homage to student living took me back.
However, this play wasn’t about me, but everyone who has suffered the feeling of being trapped in their own mind. The costume design by Jo Wright captured this perfectly.
Caterina Incisa, who plays the role of Jess, took us through a role-call of various characters in her life, in a flat which could represent any young professional’s humble abode in London. We had everything from the Father going through every self help book known to man, desperate to be as helpful as possible, but just adding to the eternal monologue, to the male therapist who looks like a better looking version of Ryan Gosling, but is about as sympathetic as Jeremy Clarkson’s driving is to the road. I didn’t want to laugh, but alongside everyone else in the audience, I just couldn’t help it, as this excellent review adeptly explains.
Only 10 minutes in and we had covered everything from sexism to physical and mental health, all whilst Caterina was in various rooms such as the shower, bed and the GP’s waiting room, talking to friends who were very real to her, but we could not physically see. At the same time I was trying to tweet, Instagram and Facebook post away, whilst bursting in to laughter at the most inappropriate times, including when I accidentally phoned my own answerphone.
Throughout this, the music captured the angel on the shoulder, devil on the other shoulder feel, which if you are in to Sci-Fi (my housemate is obsessed by it) seems to be prevalent in any Star Wars, StarTrek, Guardians of the Galaxy film or TV show. The DJ in charge of such a great selection of music that Spotify would be proud of was Wilfred Petherbidge, who is a name to look out for in the future.
After 10 minutes the show gradually became darker and under the expert director, Jo Marshall, this was represented in subtle light and speaker changes as the voice became deeper and darker and the lights started to slowly go out. Suddenly people were reaching for their tissues. When Jess started fantasizing about a brave death and was disappointed when the results came back against this outcome, leading her to refuse to crawl out of her bed, the audience had their mouths agape.
There was one more ace card up the sleeve of this clever play. We were taken back to one of the most hilarious moments of the show when Jess had taken part in a Live Drawing art class, where she lusted over one of the men who was also drawing. She meets him by chance and finds out he had felt the same way, but was with his Mum, so like Jess didn’t know where to look, as he tried desperately to controlled his bodily desires.
Like anyone who has played the game of dating in London, whether on assorted apps like Bumble, Grindr, Jswipe and Tinder, or heavens forbid plucked the courage to ask someone out in person, not wishing to waste an opportunity, Jess asks the handsome young man out. Unfortunately, not everything ends like the movie, Love Actually and he rejects her brutally. The temporary bliss is shattered and we see her eyes staring longingly at an imaginary bed.
At this point, it appears Jess has no hope and the play is still only around 35 minutes in. On top of this, she appears to be seeing double, as she plays four different characters in the space of a minute. The acting here was hilarious, poignant and the definition of what an internal monologue should be. I wanted to hide away in a dark corner, perhaps a bed would magically spring from anywhere, but my eyes were compelling me to watch.
Then we finally understand the root of it all as suddenly out of this tunnel of doom, a ray of light appears. It all goes back to the death of her mother and the psychological and physical control freak that was her ex boyfriend. She identifies it and then the play ends. Why is this a positive? Well it appears that with the help of her loved ones, she will be able to get out of those trying to controlling her and take control of it all herself. Auto-emancipation if you will, like the moment you wake up from an awful hangover and realise that everything is OK.
Caterina Incisa’s fourth dramatic work as playwright, performer and writer was a show-stopper and was the most intense 45 minutes play I have seen.
No doubts whatsoever, this play gets a big five stars from us!
This piece was written by the Director of Stephen Hoffman Consulting Ltd, Stephen Hoffman and was written alongside sponsoring the play 0 Days Without Crying