Reviewed by Sarah Phelan.
Gnarls Barkley blares through the speaker, followed by Crazy in Love and Patsy Cline, and whilst this might initially appear as the soundings of someone impatiently shuffling their ‘crazy’ playlist, it manages to set the tone for the scenes that will follow. The audience are allowed to hear these songs, so familiar to them but only on the terms that they are to be cut before anyone gets too comfortable. Its purpose is to say, yes you may have seen and heard some of this before, as the play deals with the hardly untrodden story of a girl who’s been recently sectioned, but we are assured not to be stilled just quite yet.
Set in a Psychiatric Ward in Lewishman, Michael Hajiantonis’ Going Slightly Mad follows the story of mad Max, played with a feral ferocity by Lizzie Lewis, as she comes to terms with her surroundings and the people that inhabit it. First up there’s cynical Anna and the harmless, lovable Joey, played off against one another brilliantly by Tilly Botsford and Charlie O’Brien. Later on we meet local boy Leon (Levi Mattey) and the mute Irish James (Amelia Watson).
The play works at its best when all the actors are on stage, which you find happens a lot with the directors Michael Hajiantonis and Sophie Smith truly make the most of their talented cast. No one is underexploited, with each character, bar Max, finding themselves in no less than three other roles.
The script is sharp and very funny, after all depression doesn’t have to be depressing - and considering the strangeness and chaos of the situation, you’d have to be mad not to find some humour in it.
The play only suffers when it struggles to maintain the momentum into the second half, which the writer and directors attempt to resolve through a bizarre and unnecessary fourth-wall breaking scene. Leon confronts the audience to address what we’ve all been thinking: ‘why am I being forced to sit in this People, Places and Things-cum-One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest student knockoff?’ However, I doubt many people had been thinking this. Yes, the psychedelic dance scenes have been done before but that’s because they have a close bearing on reality. Ultimately it only really served to give the impression of the writer defensively trying to shut down criticism before it could even be formulated.
The play should trust itself more as it has more than enough to stand on its own, because rarely - if ever - do you see a script capable of addressing and compounding pre-conceptions around mental health whilst simultaneously discussing the wasted comedic potential of A Question of Sport’s Phil Tufnell.