Following a rather busy week there was only time yesterday to dip a toe into the waters at the Brighton Fringe (see what I did there?). Quite by chance I came across a pair of short solo plays which dealt with the same subject but did so from quite different perspectives; the subject in question being male mental health. Of course, everybody’s mental health has been much the subject of preoccupation during the pandemic, and one might think that all that had to be said on the subject had been said and repeated several times; so, it was good to see some fresh perspectives.
Am I A Terrible Person? is written and performed by Ant Lightfoot who suffers from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Now we’re not talking here about the rather jokey take that can be plastered onto the condition where someone repeats simple actions which to the rest of us come across as mildly amusing. We’re talking about a deep psychological condition (with a hefty side order of ongoing depression) which causes repetitive behaviour to the point where physical damage occurs such as hands bleeding through rawness caused by over cleansing. And the mental anguish is even more horrendous with obsessive thinking and overthinking which is so debilitating.
Lightfoot shows us what it is to live in such a world in the opening sequence which is just a string of questions mostly rooted around self-worth – there are, of course, no answers forthcoming. This section immediately gives a sense of discomfort to the viewer as it goes on past the point of the absurd, but it makes its point really forcibly.
We then see Lightfoot in several scenes many of which are statically filmed, suggesting the difficulty with taking anything forward, such as complex cleansing routines or listening to a Tom Jones song which “sticks” on a key phrase – the latter poignantly done but also cleverly infuriating. Gradually we begin to build a picture of how the condition works and come to a greater understanding via this highly subjective approach. Lightfoot makes for a surprisingly dispassionate narrator who is seemingly calmly reflective though from what we learn this is probably a surface impression only. At under half an hour this piece is sufficient to help raise awareness and help to kindle debate.
The second piece, Doody comes as rather a contrast even though it features another solo performance about mental health; this time we are in the realms of toxic masculinity and anger management. The title (quite apart from its scatological connotations) refers to a minor character in Grease. Niall, the central figure of the play was aiming for Danny (the lead) in a school production and had adopted the leather jacket, obsessed over the songs and generally convinced himself that he was the only choice.
The casting list revealed otherwise and it has fuelled his resentment ever since causing him to visit extreme vengeance on the people he considers to be responsible for his disappointment. It becomes apparent that Niall is one of life’s “second best” figures, forever having to accept (but singularly failing to do so) disappointment and compromise; the Grease debacle is merely the tip of the iceberg. There’s a finger of blame firmly pointed at Niall’s mother (“mummy”) for encouraging and massaging his egoistic behaviour in early life.
The tone of this piece is very darkly comic in a pointed script by Caitlin Magnall-Kearns and Aaron Hickland; the latter gives an outstanding performance as the troubled Niall who occasionally morphs into a snarling demented figure somewhat reminiscent of Jack Nicholson in The Shining. The dingily filmed video adds to the general feeling of disquiet as does the blood spattered snapshots that adorn his walls revealing that psychopathic behaviour has joined his other disorders. It is again a short piece but all the more effective for being so.
Both plays are informative and would make useful ways into better understanding of the conditions that are highlighted. If Doody is the more entertaining that is down to the third person characterisation which is being put over as opposed to the highly personal biography of Am I A Terrible Person? Hopefully their existence will help to realign public perceptions about a difficult area of concern.