Old Red Lion Theatre, London – until 1 February 2020
Lullabies For the Lost is one of two plays by Rosalind Blessed about mental health that are being performed in rep at the Old Red Lion.
It starts with Larry (Chris Porter) agonising about going out to dinner with his friends, as the clock ticks closer to the time he needs to leave.
His dilemma is nothing to do with the company but his anxiety about social situations and he tests out excuses for why he isn’t able to go – which raise a few laughs – but it is nonetheless heartbreaking to see the pain his anxiety causes.
And there is a lot of that in Lullabies for the Lost as it cycles through eight stories of different mental health conditions – depression, anorexia, bulimia, chronic low self-esteem, hoarding, among others.
Some of the stories are harrowing but some show a more humorous side bringing lighter moments.
Blessed has the sufferers stuck in a white room, doomed to retell their stories until they can find the key that will unlock their condition – let them back out into the world.
The room feels like a slightly clunky device and the conversations between its occupants – a mixture of bickering and encouragement – adds little to the overall narrative or tension.
But the stories themselves are emotionally vivid, offering powerful insight into the suffering and pain.
In some of the stories, there are hints and clues as to possible triggers for mental health breakdowns – miscarriages, bad relationships etc – but for others, there are not.
Rather, we hear about how certain conditions manifest in certain behaviours and how it feels.
My problem with the play is the ending and the ‘solution’, the key to their release which, given the complexity of these mental illnesses, felt dismissively simple.
It undermined the severity of the conditions and the struggles and I’m not sure what message that leaves about people with mental health problems.
Lullabies for the Lost is at the Old Red Lion in rep with The Delight of Dogs and the Problems of People until 1 February.
It is 1 hour and 45 minutes with a 15-minute interval and I’m giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️.
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