Five years in the making, Hearing Things by Philip Osment takes a holistic approach to the diagnosis and treat of mental health in the community. Playing six very different characters, Jim Pope, Jeanette Rourke and Daniel Ward portray those administrating metal health care and those receiving it. It’s a well-accepted fact the resources and manpower after funding cuts to treat physical injuries in the NHS are stretched. However less is known (or at least spoken about) regarding resources and personnel for psychiatric treatment.
For state psychiatric practitioners like Nicholas (Pope) he is at the sharp end of things, under scrutiny for not supposedly meeting objectives or doing too little. Like Dysart in Peter Shaeffer’s Equus, Nicholas has ‘lost faith’ with his ‘calling’, feeling keenly the artificial standards of progress, as opposed to those who’ve gone into private practice and leading relatively stress-free lives. And then there’s the issue of hs own father’s dementia… His wife (Rourke) tries to be supportive, but nothing that she says or does can calm Nicholas’ agitated soul.
Innocent (Ward) has been living in the UK since he was a child, having moved over from Ghana with his mother. A few years down the line, Innocent is iooking forward to travellng back to Ghana, in time for his sister’s birthday. However, Nicholas wants to observe hin a little longer and make sure Innocent continues taking his medication. The last patient who seemed fine had a relapse and went on to do something most unfortunate…
The play itself is staged in a fluid fashion. With a minimum of fuss, the cast jump back and forth between playing parent and child, doctor and patient, lending at times a dream-like quality to the proceedings. At a symbolic, psychiatric level, the fluidity of the cast’s roles could be interpreted as what each character is aiming for or what they’re really like inwardly. Certainly the transition of the actors from childhood to adulthood remimded me of of Charlotte Keatley’s My Mother Said I Never Should, with the way the character’s maturity and disposition were reversed.
Undergoing mental health treatment is seldom straightforward or ‘pleasurable’, partly because of society’s stigma on the matter and partly because of unseen pressures to ‘get well’ quickly. Hearing Things has the weight of years’-worth of experiences and testmonies behind it. Always emotionally truthful – even during the dream-like transitions. A worthy addition to the canon of plays that explores the symbiosis of theatre with states of mind.
© Michael Davis 2017
Hearing Things ran at Clapham Omninus from 31st January to 4th February.
It runs this week at the Vaults Festival from 8th-12th February.