Camden Fringe Festival 2017: The Invisible Condition at Etcetera Theatre
This thought-provoking new verbatim theatre piece from writer and director Stephen Bailey aims to bring to light the ways in which the NHS fails its mental health patients through the testimonies of sufferers, GPs, and professional psychologists and psychiatrists.
The “documentary” opens with a young woman with an eating disorder (Eleanor Crosswell), and her story is particularly compelling, with the voices of the other cast members echoing those of the doctors, telling her “You haven’t lost enough weight yet”. It’s briefly implied that her story would be the play’s focus, which perhaps would have brought more structure to the piece, but the scene quickly moves into a debate between a psychologist (Anna Demetriuo) and a psychiatrist (James Pearse) over whose approach to mental illness is best.
Furthermore, we see statements from a nurse and, most touchingly, the story of a mother who spends so much time and effort trying to get help for her son that she neglects the fact that she needs help herself, a role played with a beautiful vulnerability by Helen Belbin. All are interesting testimonies, yet they leave the audience focusing so hard on attempting to find a link that doesn’t exist that they lose touch of what the piece is actually about, which is the current dreadful state of mental health services through the NHS in this country.
The facts and figures we’re given are appalling: waiting lists are endless, GPs hand out anti-depressants “as though they were Smarties”, and young people often have to travel upwards of 200 miles for an available bed. This data is weaved into monologues, often increasing their intensity massively, and there are moments where the audience may find themselves emotionally attached to certain characters. However, often the numbers turn The Invisible Condition into a lecture and it becomes far less moving.
This is an eye-opening piece of theatre, with some brief periods of brilliance, but overall the production lacks structure and emotion. It’s as though Bailey is trying to cram as much of the information gathered in interviews as he can into such a short play, and perhaps it would have benefited from some external editing or a focal story arc.
Photo: Last Word Theatre / Facebook
The Invisible Condition is at Etcetera theatre from 9th until 13th August 2017.
For further information about Camden Fringe Festival 2017 visit the website here.