Pros: Far from Fiction explores interesting themes and ideas, and contains some touching moments.
Cons: At times the script drags, feeling underdeveloped and poorly edited, and this limits the power of the production.
As I’ve mentioned before on this site, I have a personal and professional interest in mental health and its depiction on stage, so you would think Far from Fiction would be right up my street. This new play is an exploration of self-harm, in several of its guises. In a series of firmly demarcated scenes, two women, separated by 50 years in age, discuss their problems with each other and attempt to come to terms with their concerns through monologue conversations with other important people in their lives. It deals with eating disorders, self-harm, depression, mania, complex personal histories and the emotional roller-coaster that comes with all of these issues over the course of the evening. I really wanted to enjoy this play. I wanted it to be good, to be a blistering and personal exploration of these themes. But, sadly, it just wasn’t.
Suzie (Sally Willis), 69, and Dot (Rachel Summers), 19, find themselves thrown together in what appears to be aof rehabilitative mental health institution. They rub along together, peacefully at times but often with a great deal of anger and frustration. Neither appears to be doing terribly well and both experience the ups and downs that accompany any recovery from an acute episode of mental illness.
Far from Fiction is a long show, clocking in at just under two hours with no interval, and I feel that it could have done with some editing to trim off the script’s unnecessary bulk. The use of extended passages, delivered as if to God or to an imaginary friend, lack originality and, although the content delivered is crucial to our understanding of the thought processes of the characters, I wonder whether there could have been a more interesting and creative way to deliver the same information.
Writer Willis plays the older of the two women. In creating a character who continues to be plagued by mental illness despite being older than the stereotypical ‘troubled young woman’ age, she does a real service to the thousands of individuals who continue to struggle through depression and mania well into their 60s and 70s. Having said this, her depiction wasn’t without flaws. It lacked nuance, and would have been vastly improved with a greater degree of subtlety.
Summers gives an excellent performance as the younger Dot, and I saw in her the frustration so many young people have when they can’t seem to get their brain working the way they wish it would. Her self-harm and her background are expressed movingly but, despite her good performance, she is let down by the sub-par script, which limits her performance.
The programme gives contact information for anyone who might be experiencing similar problems, and so I can’t help but return to the feeling that even though this production could be executed better, plays which help to break down the taboo of mental illness are valuable for their existence alone. Sadly, however, that doesn’t change the fact that I personally didn’t enjoy Far from Fiction.
Writer: Sally Willis
Director: Cynthia Grenville and Ewa Radwan
Box Office: 020 7267 2304
Booking Link: http://www.lionandunicorntheatre.co.uk/far-from-fiction/#1454629649147-6b256633-4b60
Booking Until: 16 April