Depression and self-help gurus: what a terrible combination. But it’s this unhealthy fusion that forms the backbone of Tom Derrington‘s Bounce. And as much as those two should never mix in real life, on stage it really is an incredible and well-thought-through pairing.
Nick Robinson is Jesse Fontaine, the self-help guru. He is all smiles and positive energy as he bounds (or should that be bounces) on to the stage and reels off his meaningless words of wisdom. He is everything you’d expect, geeing up his audience as he tells us we too could do it (whatever it may be) if we only tried. In his audience tonight is Sylvia, whose son makes up the other half of that unhealthy pairing, a man with depression who briefly seems cured after one of Jesse’s seminars. But it is clear that his respite is short-lived, and now Sylvia is at a seminar watching and waiting her turn to talk, so she can tell Jessie what she really thinks. While she waits for that moment to come she tells us just what brought her here today.
Chrissie Derrington’s portrayal of a mother struggling to understand her son’s depression is played with a subtlety that many others could learn from. This is a moving performance that leaves you yearning to offer words of comfort, and also an incredibly well-considered portrayal of how those around you are affected when you suffer from mental health issues. It’s all too easy to forget the damage that can be done to your loved ones, the people who care about you when you think the whole world has given up on you. “I didn’t know what to do. I always knew what to do but then suddenly I didn’t” perfectly sums up the helplessness felt. What makes her performance all the more powerful is her amusing little asides, interrupting her flow to throw in the most mundane of comments that allow us to see her as someone we surely all know, just another mother trying to understand an ever-changing world.
As subtle as Chrissie Derrington is, Robinson is her polar opposite. Loud, brash, confident of his own greatness and yet at times strangely likeable, as much as you know he is a dangerous charlatan. It’s the contrasts between both performances that make each stand out that much more.
Tom Derrington’s writing is easily up to the task of representing the damage depression can do if not treated, along with a mother’s anguish of not knowing what to do. He never lays things on too thickly, instead leaving a trail of crumbs for us to follow; allowing us time to actively piece it all together. It’s difficult to pinpoint the moment it becomes all too clear where he is gently leading us, but that revelation never distracts from the emotional punch at the journey’s end.
Kitty Cecil-Wright’s direction aids our progress. The deftness of transitions between Sylvia’s monologues and Jesse’s rousing yet hollow seminar speeches means there is no pause, as the soft lights for Sylvia change directly to brightness for Jesse. As Sylvia’s words quietly trail away, Jesse picks them up for his next motivational revelation. Because yes, you too could be someone if you only tried.
Ultimately Bounce makes it clear that there is no quick, magical cure for depression, or any other mental health problem. The worse thing you can say to someone suffering with depression is ‘just get over it, cheer up, you need to make yourself happy.’ If it were that easy we would all be doing it. Through two great performances, subtle yet focused writing and softly approached direction, Bounce is a wonderfully insightful play that will leave you thinking of those who suffer with you when the black dog strikes.
Written by: Tom Derrington
Directed by: Kitty Cecil-Wright
Produced by: BackToBack Theatre
Bounce plays at Lion and unicorn Theatre until 10 June. Further information and bookings can be found here.