This heart-wrenching story both educates and entertains, leaving you more aware of the world around you.
Kane Power’s one man show exhibits the power of theatre as a platform to discuss mental illness. Mental explores the subject in an honest, albeit simple, way, giving the audience a fresh perspective that is both clear, and easy to understand. Power discusses his mother’s experience with bipolar affective disorder, and how it ultimately affected her relationships with him, her sister, and her neighbours, using a mixture of song and recited memories. Each one provides a different perspective and emotional element to the production; his songs seem almost directly spoken to his mother, open and heartfelt like a lost child. When Power shares his personal journey he is at his most vulnerable, discussing his embarrassment as a child and his loneliness and regret as he has gotten older.
Power’s use of music and lighting is another powerful element in Mental, both used to reflect the mental state of his mother. Slow music and calm lighting, projecting colours such as blue and green onto the stage, represent her stages of depression, while bold chaotic lighting and loud music reflect her manic moments, causing the audience to feel oppressed and overwhelmed by both. This is an effective way for Power to create a sense of empathy among the audience for his mother, as they begin to understand just a fraction of what Kim goes through.
Power keeps the audience feeling relatively uncomfortable throughout by holding eye contact with different members, drawing the audience further into the world he is creating, and giving them a sense of responsibility and guilt for their own failure to tackle mental health. In this way the audience seems to experience similar emotions to those of Power’s, who opens the show by admitting his struggle with his mother’s illness and his guilt over what he had felt and done, preferring to avoid the difficult situations when he was growing up. The venue was particularly effective for creating tension and closeness with Power and his story, it being extremely small and intimate, allowing audience members to sit very close to the stage. This intimacy and physical closeness reinforced the connection audience members feel with Power and creates a further sense of being involved in the show.
Power’s use of props included tapes of his mothers voicemails, pills she had been prescribed, and her medical files, all aiming to ground the production, giving a dramatic play a sense of realism and substantiation. The voicemails vary from angry, hysterical messages where Kim vents her frustration and resentment of her son, to messages where she sings about how much she loves him. These extreme variations give the audience a clearer image of her mental state and just how cruel and hurtful her disease can make her. Yet, these messages do not make the audience turn on her as you might fear, but rather they evoke greater sympathy for both Power and his mother. His discussion of his mother’s medication, its side effects and her medical history contribute towards the raw realness of the production, as it highlights the confusion and complication that surrounds mental illness, dispelling the myth that there is some kind of ‘miracle drug’ in the process. We learn how medicine prescribed to make her better can have side effects which cause similar, if not worse suffering than the disease itself, ridding depression by removing emotion. The overwhelming combination of medication and medical files gives a sense of hopelessness, as despite decades of help Kim still suffers with the disorder and her son still suffers with the impact that it has on his life.
Mental is a heart-wrenching production that discusses mental illness in an honest, clear and intimate way. Power makes the issues feel personal while ensuring that the audience are educated, not just in the suffering of its victims, but how it affects those around them. A particularly important message that Power imparts on his audience is how important it is to separate a victim of mental illness from their disorder, as this is merely a part of who they are, rather than their entire identity. Mental is a production not to be missed, and will inevitably leave its audience changed for the better.
The Vault Festival runs from 25 January – 5 March 2017. Tickets can be found here. Watch the trailer for Mental below.