Pros: This play talks about the difficult topic of mental health with sensitivity and humour.
Cons: The vignette format of the show doesn’t allow the subtlety or depth required to properly talk about the complex issues it brings up.
Mental health. It’s not a particularly sexy topic. It IS a particularly complex one. These two qualities leave no doubt as to why it’s not exactly a beloved subject among theatre makers, or anyone in the arts really. It’s hard to get it right, and very easy to get it wrong. But greater understanding can only come from trying (and, occasionally, failing), which is why it’s very important that people like playwright/director Chris Mayo take it on anyway.
In My Head, a new play by Mayo, is a series of short stories that explore the theme of mental health in the 21st century. Some consist of one scene only, while other plotlines are picked up again later in the show or intersect with different stories. The topics are diverse, ranging from a self-harming teenage girl who confides in her best friend to a man who discovers he’s developed feelings for his therapist. Mayo doesn’t shun the acutely contemporary either; one storyline sees a new employee make waves at a big meeting when he criticises the director’s idea for a ‘psycho ward’ Halloween costume.
On paper that all sounds rather heavy, but fortunately In My Head happens to be one of those plays that prove that you can tackle a serious issue and still have a laugh. One of the humourous, if also cringe-worthy, highlights of the show is a game-show scene in which contestants, egged on by the horribly inappropriate host, play to win eight weeks of therapy for themselves and a friend. Even in the more weighty scenes there’s room for the occasional joke, and there are regular laughs from the audience when characters talk about ‘the ultimate American wank’ (performed with a donut, in case you were wondering) or describe the panini as ‘the thinking man’s kebab’.
The six cast members operate like a well-oiled machine, although their frequent character changes could be improved with a little more contrasting: at the moment, slipping into a different role mainly seems to mean putting on a pair of glasses or a different shirt. That being said, they do a good job and some of the scenes are genuinely very touching. It helps that the set is a simple set of white blocks that the actors move around themselves; it does the job without in any way distracting the spectators from the dialogue.
While Mayo’s chosen format allows him to explore a range of topics surrounding mental health, it does have the inherent disadvantage of only touching on each individual theme very lightly. And that’s a shame, because they are all difficult issues that need to be discussed with more subtlety and precision than a series of vignettes can afford. They bring up interesting, relevant points that deserve to be discussed much more thoroughly. However, even if it doesn’t satisfy those looking for a lengthy debate, In My Head is without a doubt a sensitive and effective conversation starter. And with mental health still being a topic too many people are unaware of, Mayo can only be commended for his efforts in tackling that.
Author and Director: Chris Mayo
Producer: Cuckoo Bang
Box Office: 020 3598 2626
Booking Link: http://www.theproudarchivist.co.uk/event/in-my-head/all/
Booking Until: 14 November 2015