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Mind’s A Labyrinth – Gulliver’s Ballroom, Manchester – Review
I have, over the course of the past three years, seen this play in various incarnations, as it started life as Dragged Up, and from there went to Borderline Electra, and now the latest re-write Mind’s A Labyrinth. It is not an easy story, it’s hard-hitting and doesn’t make ‘conventional’ theatre. It is obviously a subject that writer and director Stevie Helps is passionate about, and his tenacity at trying to ‘get it right’ is admirable and laudable.
The story in this incarnation is much more mature and confident in its writing and it does indeed seem that, in the first act at least, this is now a truly engaging and thought-provoking piece which has the possibility of longevity. It is sadly let down by a denouement which, most unfortunately becomes laughable – completely the opposite reaction to what was intended – simply because the final scene is packed so full of trite and ‘shocking’ reveals which would even seem unlikely on the Jeremy Kyle Show just making a mockery of what has gone before. And what had gone before was good, very good actually.
A young lady in her early twenties is cavorting semi-naked in a nightclub and kissing a young man. Her dad sees her, and thus starts this spiralling epic Greek-style tragedy which has the girl suffering from slightly more than a borderline personality disorder, undoubtedly augmented if not even caused by her totally messed up parents; her father who both physically and sexually abuses her whilst we are told that her mother has tragically committed suicide……. and so as not to spoil the story I’ll leave it there! But you get the idea… this isn’t a Sunday stroll in the park!
There were two alternate casts for this production, and so I can only comment on the actors and actresses I saw.
The play either floats or flops on two performers. If the roles of Rachel (the girl with the BPD) and her father Stuart are not excellently cast, then one might as well scrap the whole thing and start again. I am therefore delighted to say this was certainly not the case here. Rachel, played by Nadia Dilamy, was extremely good indeed. Her split-second changes of character and mood were totally consistent throughout and her manic split characterisations utterly believable. It was a knife’s edge performance. Her father, Stuart, played here by David Lamont, had no less a rollercoaster of a character, and his vehemence and vindictive nastiness pitched perfectly against his wheedling and whining. Both characters were excellently researched and both gave powerhouse performances to be extremely proud of.
The trio would not be complete however without Rachel’s love interest who also isn’t all he first appears to be, and as his character is brought more into the spotlight we see that he too is a nasty and dangerous human being. Of the three, Elliot, played here by Graham Atkin, was the least secure and sincere. I really liked his vulnerability but the performance didn’t stand alone, and as such came across as a little ineffectual. It was a very brave try but I think the performance lacked a certain calculated maturity.
The other two characters were played ably by Linda Edwards as both Jane (wife and mother) and the detective who has very out-of-line sexual fantasies of her own, bringing in some much needed comedy into these heavy depths; and Linda Meacher, a waitress.
The staging too was much more adventurous and better thought through than previously. The Gulliver’s Ballroom lending a very unkempt and unloved yet majestic beauty to the surrounds, as indeed the ballroom showed signs of a latter-day glory now very dark, dank, dusty and peeling paint. The set itself was on two levels, with most of the more ‘difficult’ scenes being played on the raised platform at the rear, sensibly as far from the audience as possible, whilst the bar and Elliott’s flat were placed on seat level with a strip of grass right on the apron for the picnic scene. It worked well, and it was nice to have the eyes constantly going between short and middle distance. The only thing which really didn’t work for me was the placing of the cellar; that seemed totally arbitrary. Mum sitting on the cellar steps at the beginning and then the locking of the cellar door towards the end being in a totally different place.
The one thing I have left until last to mention is the sound. There was throughout the play live music played on guitar and sung by up-and-coming singer/songwriter Lizzie Tupman. I remember an earlier incarnation where the music was overloud, invading our thoughts and thus ruining our enjoyment. This was almost perfect; the songs well chosen, and just the right volume with the right sentiment behind each. So much more thought had gone into this area of the production than previously and this made me very happy. If I had to criticise it at all, then I would say that perhaps one or two of the tracks were a little long.
Stevie Helps has directed this play with passion and verve and has shown a much deeper understanding of the issues it raises than his earlier attempts. This is now a play with legs! (as we say in the profession!)
This production of Mind’s A Labyrinth can be seen at The Lowry’s studio theatre in November.
Reviewer – Alastair MacDougall
on – 27/9/16