Tales From Behind The Twitching Curtain, Old Red Lion Theatre – Preview

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When we talk about ‘mental health’, it conjures a multitude of images, as well as a broad range of experiences. The fact is, everyone has pressures that no one else is privy to and if we were able to hear each other’s thoughts, I doubt anyone would be thought of as sane or ‘together’. Rosalind Blessed’s anthology Tales From Behind The Twitching Curtain (which is directed by Zoé Ford Burnett) looks at eight different scenarios where the protagonist is struggling with some aspect of life.

Opening the evening, Just Leaving sees Chris Porter’s ‘Larry’ wrestling with his ambivalent feelings towards meeting a friend. On one hand, he missed his friend’s 40th birthday and despite good intentions, never seems to make it to see him. However, ‘Larry’ is visibly perturbed at the prospect of also meeting their mutual ‘friends’, and the awkward ‘small talk’ regarding how he is and what he’s up to. While the excuses that ‘Larry’ comes up with for not turning up are funny, the anxiety he feels at the prospect of being with people who drain his emotional reserves is palpable.

The ‘business’ of having children is a world within itself in regards to psychological pressures. Having children or not having children… – either can be a source of intense feelings for women and often the source of conflict between couples. In Lullaby, Kate Tydman’s character knows many people and the sort of person who others come to for advice. Yet when she experiences a miscarriage, she realises how ‘alone’ she is – how much of a taboo subject it is even among women, compounding her ‘isolation’. On the surface she’s ‘fine’, she’s ‘coping’, but deep down ­ – well that’s another matter. When she finally admits she “lost a child”, her friend is aghast at the disclosure. However, the same woman is visibly relieved when it’s clarified that ‘only’ a miscarriage took place – not the disappearance of a child in a public place…

End Of The Line sees Liam Mulvey as a man dealing with his feelings in the aftermath of a relationship. Deciding one day that trying for kids isn’t for him leads to the dissolving of his marriage. However, the absence of his wife and all the things they once shared at home is too much for him to face. Of course his character isn’t introspective at all, so all the things we learn about his state of mind are from what he doesn’t say or chooses not to dwell on…

Helen Bang’s character in Cheesybugs is cut from the same cloth as one of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues. Speaking in a measured fashion, she teases out details about her inner feelings and personal life. One would think that dating her ‘best friend’ she’s ‘struck gold’ and all would end well. Alas, the devil’s in the detail and the person who should have been an ideal candidate to start a family with, suddenly isn’t…

Echoing the energy of Just Leaving (and then some), One Man And His Dog focuses on housebound man with depression, struggling to find any motivation at all. Played by Chris Pybus, the man in question is far from lethargic or ‘inert’. But in a world that’s turned its back on him, why should he engage with it? Who actually needs him? Cue: Man’s best friend…

On first appearance, Nick Murphy’s character in Transformers is a happy, ‘functioning’ human being, as he spend time playing Wii games with his best friend (Liam Mulvey). However, as the conversation turns to old TV programmes and nostalgia in general, the penny drops about Murphy’s character – a propensity to ‘live in the past’ and reluctance to engage in the ‘here and now’. Would anyone here truly miss him if he was gone..?

Ever since eating disorders were first recognised and began to be understood, there has been no signs of them abating. The Human Bin, which is performed by Rosalind Blessed examines one’s woman relationship with food and the ‘discipline’ required to be bulimic. Told in a completely matter-of-fact fashion, there is a dissonance between the harm she knows that constant regurgitation does to her teeth and throat, and the will to carry on regardless…

Told from a slightly different persective, we also see the day-to-day life of someone seeking ‘help’ from their eating disorder. Playing the former bulimic in Just Sick, Duncan Wilkins’ character is far from happy. More akin to a correctional facility or psychiatric ward, the clinic he stays at is anything but tranquil. With constant noise that prohibits sleep, it is many ways ‘aural torture’. And while Wilkins’ character instinctively knows that the psychological reasons for his eating disorder need to be addressed before he can make a full recovery, the staff who work there aren’t interested in pursuing this avenue – ‘content’ that he’s attempting to eat at all.

Blessed covers a lot of ground in these eight short plays and while they hold an unflinching eye on people’s ‘private battles’, they are always insightful and never devoid of hope. Human beings are ‘messy’ at the best of times. These plays show we are more fragile and have more in common with each other than we’d like to think.

© Michael Davis 2018

Five Stars

Tales From Behind The Twitching Curtain previewed during various dates in December at Arcola Theatre, Old Red Lion Theatre and Soho Theatre.

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