Living With The Lights On at the Young Vic
“Living with the lights on, that’s what it’s all about.” If there is anything that can be taken from this powerful, autobiographical performance, it is to not lose faith, to realise that while the lights can switch off in one’s mind, they can be switched back on. Mark Lockyer brings to stage the journey from professional RSC actor to patient in a locked psychiatric unit. He relates his struggle with manic depression, which he describes as having stained him like a tattoo, although he has “learnt to live with it”.
The piece does not take place on a large stage; there are probably fewer than 60 people in attendance. It feels as if the performance is in one of the theatre’s secret rooms, as the audience are brought backstage into Lockyer’s life. Complete with complimentary tea and biscuits, this feels more like a counselling session than a piece of theatre. Before the play begins, Lockyer introduces himself to members of the crowd, bringing over Hobnobs, asking how their days are going, visibly uplifting them with his obvious appreciation that they are here. He is a natural performer; he switches between the voices of his past with an ease that is enchanting to watch. So while he is the only actor onstage, there are many characters in this story, all of whom have become part of him.
He explains that he wants to “break down the theatrical barrier”. He does not want stage lighting or props, those viewers are the show’s most important element. At first, this seems like a classic clichéed statement, a device used by performers for centuries to win audiences’ attentions, but it is true in his case. He aims to help the crowd comprehend why he has behaved in certain ways. It is almost a personal quest: he admits that people may not forgive him, but he wants them to understand him. Mental illness is still a stigmatised topic of discussion, and this performance is necessary. The viewer is spared nothing.
Living With The Lights On validates the power of oral storytelling. This one-man show is more powerful and effective than a huge production could ever be. It is an extraordinary piece of work, a gem in the current theatrical landscape, and is especially relevant considering the current debates surrounding the quality and availability of mental health care. As Lockyer reminds the audience, “no man is free from the devil of mental illness,” and so his narrative resonates on a universal level.
Living With The Lights On is on at the Young Vic from 17th until 19th March 2016, for further information or to book visit here.