Snap Out Of It!

Wed 31st July – Mon 26th August 2013

reviews

Anjali Joseph

at 20:04 on 7th Aug 2013

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Charlie Bindels and Elizabeth Shenck began ‘Snap Out of it’ by explaining that their creation explores mental health, using readings from submissions they received from individuals affected both directly and indirectly by mental health issues. I’ll admit, I was initially sceptical, worried that this would be a show filled with sweeping generalisations and a clear cut “message”. I was proven wrong within the first five minutes, and what unfolded was a piece that explored and exposed the often under-discussed or forgotten elements of mental illness with sensitivity and, more importantly, without agenda.

The beauty of a project such as this is that it humanises and normalises a topic that is often subject to stigma. The accounts that were read were moving and sometimes angry, but they were also funny, intelligent, reflective and often well-written. As one of the testimonies articulately put it, “how did we get to this place where being unhappy is shameful”? The selection of experiences ranged from a previous sufferer of depression, frustrated that others couldn’t just ‘snap out of it’ to a discussion by an individual from an academically privileged background who felt they had no ‘claim’ to the depressive feelings to which they were subject. These are voices which are often silenced in the discussion of mental illness, and it was refreshing to observe a project open-minded enough to give expression to such a diverse range of experiences.

As a performance this was by no means perfect. I wasn’t convinced by some of the directional decisions (the tableau in which the cast curled up, clutching pillows to their chests, seemed a little contrived) and there were a couple of inconsistencies in intention. As the cast themselves stated, they did not view their role to be primarily as actors, but rather as providing voices through which the individual contributors could speak. Whilst mostly maintaining very natural readings of the accounts they had received, a couple of John King’s readings overstepped this line which the cast themselves had imposed.

Similarly, the decision to merge two of the poems written by different contributors seemed slightly contrary to the show’s commitment to illuminating individual experiences of mental illness. On a stylistic point, I would have preferred to have heard them individually and couldn’t actually hear either of them, as the other was being read out over it. This was, however, compensated for by some nice touches, such as using the piano music, composed as a coping mechanism, during the scene changes.

This show should be commended for its realistic and well-rounded approach to its subject matter. Moving and measured, this was a thoughtful performance which, with some tweaking, has the potential to be very powerful.

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Imogen O'Sullivan

at 10:02 on 8th Aug 2013

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‘Snap Out Of It!’ opens with a refreshingly honest address to the audience from directors-cum-researchers, Charlie Bindels and Elizabeth Schenk. They tell us about the surveys and interviews they carried out with many whose lives are affected by mental illness in a variety of ways. This utter lack of the illusion of performance immediately charms and engages, and the actors in turn express the desire to ‘do justice to the words’ of the people whose stories they tell. And they do.

The opening sequence fills the stage with scraps of paper, littering the floor, hanging from pegs that lattice the top of the stage, mirroring the cluttered rooms that the rest of the staging evokes. This serves as a visual reminder of the patchwork of real lives these actors build up – ‘mouthpieces’ to tell others’ stories. It is as mouthpieces that the performers are strongest. It seems strange to criticise shows for too much acting, but, in this case, the words are enough and the performers occasionally strain too much in trying to add character to the passages. For example, the interviews re-enacted on stage work far better in non-naturalistic staging, the imitation of a real-life interview seem somehow too much like ‘acting’ for the verbatim style Bindels and Schenk have cultivated. The movement pieces that break up the stories also need reworking – the idea is really strong, but in their current state, they are a little static and repetitive, and could do with more energy and action to vary the pace.

In general, my criticisms are outweighed by how impressed I was with this original treatment of a difficult and topical subject matter. Strung Up Theatre manage to shine a light on areas frequently overlooked; for example, the struggles against bureaucracy and red tape that those affected by mental illness still have to deal with. John King gives a beautifully natural portrayal of an anorexic girl who is refused a private counsellor despite the fact that her local NHS can’t provide one. The gender inversion added a fascinating dimension to this story of anxiety and academic pressure, but King doesn’t need to resort to shouting to drive the point home – this piece is at its most powerful when understated.

Megan Henson explores the guilt felt by many suffering from depression – the common feeling that, ‘what right do you have to be sad at all?’, whilst Madeleine Skipsey puts in a brave performance of ‘conservative’ opinions on mental health. She explores the fear that labelling disorders as medical may discourage people from ‘fighting their own battles’. ‘Snap Out Of It!’ doesn’t attempt any crude explanations or resolutions, it presents the difficulties and differences in opinion surrounding these issues fairly and without judgment, emphasising that there are no easy solutions.

An interesting contrast is set up between verbatim and drama when Megan Dalton performs a monologue written by a close friend of a depression sufferer. Whilst the writing was strong, it seemed strangely artificial when compared with the story of the writer’s own experiences, narrated afterwards by King. The content of ‘Snap Out of It!’ is a beautifully woven patchwork of real voices and real stories. The presentation of the show could use refining slightly, but this production shows a huge amount of potential, the company just need to trust that the words themselves have enough power to hold an audience.

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