Pros: Mark’s ability to bring us to the floor laughing, and move us to tears moments later.
Cons: No cons. This is an important and necessary addition to the valuable conversation about mental illness.
Mark Lockyer’s acting biography reads like a list of impressive achievements: numerous appearances at the Royal Shakespeare Company, several at the National Theatre, a couple at the Globe, and so on. When a man with a background like this tells you about his descent into mental illness and the humiliating and soul-destroying accompanying struggle, it hits home hard. Really hard. Mark’s story was one of the most moving and thought-provoking narratives I’ve ever witnessed.
All the more devastating, given that the evening began on such a light note. Mark himself welcomed us into the small studio space The Maria in the Young Vic, all smiles and bounce, and immediately proceeded to warn us that there would be no fourth wall, no traditional performance – he just wanted to tell us his story, no props, lighting or sound-effects necessary. A purely personal story carries the risk of descending into narcissism, but Mark’s endearing personality and candid honesty did away with this risk. He is a born performer, and initially clearly relished the opportunity to exploit his ability to bring his audience to tears with laughter with his sincerity and tendency to poke fun at himself.
All begins well, with the then-director of the RSC asking Mark to appear in an important production of Romeo and Juliet as Mercutio, one of Shakespeare’s finest roles. But the devilishly smart and arguably mentally unbalanced Mercutio casts his spell over Mark. Mark meets his own manic depression in the form of a suave American Lucifer, who watches over him as Mark proceeds to become increasingly destructive towards everything he believes in.
With astonishingly brave honesty, Mark tells us how he wrecked the production of Romeo and Juliet, broke up with his long-term girlfriend, committed arson and attempted suicide – all under Lucifer’s watchful eye. Finally, after several stints in mental institutions, he lands in prison, where he finally feels safe. I don’t know how long it took Mark to shake Lucifer off, but his ability to confront this deeply personal story in such a public way is testament to how far he has come.
It is a bold move to open up your heart and history like Mark did, but Living With the Lights On is an important addition to the on-going discussion about mental illness. Hopefully, by opening up the conversation about Lucifer – whichever form he chooses to take – we can avoid more brilliantly talented individuals taking a similar journey into hell.
Director: Ramin Gray
Story and Performance: Mark Lockyer
Associate Director: Rosemary McKenna
Living with the Lights on ran at The Maria in the Young Vic from 17 – 19 March 2016.