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Saturday, 9 March 2019

REVIEW: My Mental Breakdown: A Musical at North Shields – The Exchange


My Mental Breakdown: A Musical
North Shields – The Exchange
Friday 8th - Saturday 9th March 2019

My Mental Breakdown: A Musical is a gritty revealing new writing that uses the format of a musical to present a tale usually reserved for a straight drama.

The production opens with the cast of four, loudly reciting the internal monologue normally reserved as private thoughts for an individual trying to cope with depression. For example, nagging doubts, the inability to focus or concentrate – time flying by, but little work is done. This may be a musical but it has no intentions of following the regular format of a conventional musical – indeed it is a while before the first number.

Toby (Scott Thomas) is moving out of his mother’s home. It is clear that his relationship with his mother has not been an easy one of late. His mother (Bethan Amber) makes it clear that he doesn’t have to leave.  As he leaves, the offer of his father’s copy of the Bible is the starting gun for a well-worn argument about faith and relying on a higher being to sort problems out.  This also leads into one of the opening numbers. The venue has been arranged with the musicians on the usual stage and the theatrical action taking place in the area normally used by the stalls seating, with seating on 3 sides. The band comprises of a piano (played by writer/director Max Kingdom), Guitar (performed by the show’s producer Emily Fay Palmer-Giles) and percussion (Joey Swindles). Whilst given some amplification their accompaniment doesn’t drown out the unamplified voices of the cast. It’s worth noting that using a small band will make this an easier show to tour later in the year.

Adding to Toby’s anguish are the problems of trying to make his relationship with Griff (Afnan Prince Iftikhar) work.  The story also explores the paradox that Toby needs support but by showing he cares enough to seek medical attention he also shows that he is a lower priority case for the overstretched health professionals. Completing the cast is Kitty Parkins who comes across as Toby’s sub-consciousness – his inner demon. Mental illness doesn't respect love and relationships and the piece captures how it can drive a stake between family and lovers.

The stark staging of 4 chairs around a table matches the stark story.  The lack of embellishments helped the audience focus on the narrative.

The production starts off very loud and at times shouty as Toby is surrounded by his small support network but, just before and after the interval, we get some much quieter solo numbers. For example, Bethan Amber delivers raw emotion as she describes the feelings of a worried mother. This is not a “stagey” mother delivering a big musical number, and I’m thinking Blood Brothers here, but the more visceral mother who is beside herself with worry, like a 60s Ken Loach drama. The fragility in Afnan Prince Iftikhar’s number added a much-needed dynamic to the story at that point.  That channelled raw emotion is a key strength, given by all 4 members of the cast, of this production.  There is a believability in the cast. At any one moment two performers could be arguing in the centre of the stage but the other two are reflecting the feelings of the action.

Central to the plot is Scott Thomas who goes through a journey as Toby. His character struggles to explain to those closest to him as he tries to make sense of his own demons. He is highly plausible as a young man facing difficulty.

So, this is a tough one. Powerful emotions of a genuine issue feed a tale that needs to be said. If Rent was to reflect the HIV/AIDS crisis at the time, then this show has the equally important role to open up the private misery of mental illness that we face today. In its current form the show  feels quite raw, but that probably adds to its strength. At the end, after the applause, the audience didn’t move from their seats – they sat, talked to each other – some cried. But they were talking, and that’s the point.

The plan is to take the show on tour. I hope it does. It deserves your support.

Review: Stephen Oliver

CONTENT WARNING: Themes of mental illness, suicide and self harm.

My Mental Breakdown: A Musical has been fully sponsored by London North Eastern Railway.

All Proceeds are going to Campaign against Living Miserably (CALM) who work tirelessly to help men who are feeling suicidal.  More information on this amazing charity can be found here: https://www.thecalmzone.net

On The Web:

Age:16+
Length:1.5 hours

Tickets: £10.00 (£8.00  Con) from the Exchange box office or www.ticketsource.co.uk/theexchange.


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