The Walls

Fri 2nd – Sat 17th August 2013

reviews

Ashley Chhibber

at 20:22 on 7th Aug 2013

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2disagrees

From the moment the audience members are presented with ‘luggage tags’ on which they are asked to write any experiences of mental illness, as part of a project to stimulate healthy debate, it was clear that this is a production which takes its drive to normalise this discussion very seriously. When such voices spoke directly, it was very successful; yet unfortunately, these instances were structurally subordinated, to the detriment of the production.

The strength of this production lay in the monologues of Alice Chudmann (Eleanor Wright), Jane Yaeger (Lauren Chandler) and Virginia (Louise Wilcox), in which they described their experiences of episodes and of mental illness overall. These were extremely well written, hauntingly beautiful and delivered with great strength and emotion; some truly captivating performances. The musical choices accompanied these speeches successfully, added to the intensity. Wright in particular was powerful in her delivery, shocking and intense, even in the scene in which she wails wordlessly and must be restrained. The marked change after her confinement, to a subdued and broken woman, hits hard.

The weakest element of the plot involved Carrie (Sophia Chetin-Leuner), who is researching the history of female mental illness for her PhD. Initially this seemed just a framing device, her storyline taking place offstage (with all events onstage dealing with the past), and in this format it worked incredibly well. However, as the play progresses, Carrie’s story takes centre stage, to the detriment of the production as a whole. As an interviewer, she was unrealistic, insensitive and immature; her relationship with Lucy (Chloe Petts) lacked any sort of chemistry or sexual tension. During her first revelation about the death of Virginia (her mother), Wilcox remained on stage miming painting, which weakened any emotional intensity. Ultimately, I could not find it in myself to care about Carrie, although this might have been the writing rather than the acting.

In terms of visual aesthetics, the costume design was strong, but I was not a fan of the minimalist set: a black back wall and black curtains with a few chairs and an easel. In part, the stage felt too open for a show about confinement and entitled ‘The Walls’. I also thought the sense of an asylum might have been better conveyed were the walls white, although perhaps this was a constraint of the venue. Considering the role Virginia’s paintings played in Carrie’s story, it was a shame that we were confronted merely by empty frames. It would have been nice to have better visual distractions for when the action dragged. Ideally, this play should have been cut to fit within an hour, with more focus placed on the historical over the modern narrative.

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Costanza Bertoni

at 00:07 on 8th Aug 2013

0agrees

2disagrees

The Walls is a production whose concrete barriers do not demonstrate the imprisoning, and isolating effect of mental illness, but a rather narrow perspective on a topic that is not only close to home for many, but contentious and full of potential. A lengthy show, I was anticipating a thought-provoking performance that exposed the physical, and gender-related problems with coping with insanity. Although the intention for this exploration of mental illness was there, I thought that perhaps the elaboration of the issues was cut a little short.

A story framed by a woman with a schizophrenic mother who is conducting research on the development and implication of female mental health, the surrounding narratives were of different women from varying eras who had been hospitalised against their will. An interesting idea, but perhaps made the plot a little convoluted and difficult to follow, it was a nice way in which to see the longevity of the problem of female mental health, and how many women were affected by the lack of understanding in this field.

An aspect of the production which I think gave a two-dimensional feel to the discussed topic was that there wasn’t a sense of progression with the insanity of the characters. Most of the diseases referred to in the play were in fact degenerative, such as dementia, but sadly there wasn’t a sense of a slow and progressive down-fall. This also meant that I wasn’t entirely sure whether I should therefore be focusing on something else; was it that they weren’t in fact mentally conditioned? And so the play in actual fact demonstrated the injustice of male attitude towards women? I feel to draw this out and make it much clearer, there could have been more of a designated grey-area with the acting, and the script.

Having said this, aspects of the production I enjoyed were the smooth switches between the scenes, including some exceedingly swift costume changes, and a sweet and convincing performance from Lauren Chandler as the timid Jane Yaegar.

With high expectations for this show, I have to say I was a little disappointed by how limited the examination of the topic of mental health was; resulting in an ambiguous and quite unsatisfactory diagnosis.

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Comments

Steph Hill; 8th Aug 2013; 22:51:35

I literally could not disagree more with Ashley and Costanza (Ashley appears to ave a typo in his name...). The fact that they have both misunderstood what I thought was a clear and effective piece (e.g. the mother is bi-polar, not schizophrenic) and offer suggestions such as "they should have painted the walls white. Asylum walls have to be white, yeah? whatever, they should totally be white" betrays how poorly qualified they are to be sharing an opinion let alone a formal review. In particular, I'm incredibly surprised by the criticism of the character Carrie, unless the actress was having an 'off-day'. My family have a history of mental illness and I thought the entire cast and crew dealt with the incredibly difficult subject with sensitivity and a refreshing sense of realism (avoiding the GCSE-style abstract form that seems to be haunting many productions of this kind). I thought Carrie was a very very difficult character to play, and although there was a slight lapse in her accent, her performance was otherwise impressive and really stuck with me hours after the show had finished.

I'm not a reviewer so I shan't butcher an attempt to do so as these two have, but merely suggest you go see the play for yourself - if only to see just quite how incorrect these two idiots are.

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