Mr Monkey caught a bus into Manchester and scurried along to the press night of The Almighty Sometimes at the Royal Exchange Theatre.
Kendall Feaver's play, The Almighty Sometimes, won the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting Judges Award in 2015. This is its first production, which will be followed by a second production by the Griffin Theatre Company in Sydney.
There are only four characters in The Almighty Sometimes. Anna is 18 years old and has been disturbing her mother with behaviour and strange writing since she was six. Renee, Anna's mother, is a teacher and is exhuasted from looking after Anna and her mood swings. Vivienne is the child psychologist responsible for Anna's bi-polar diagnosis and for her changing medication over the previous seven years. Finally, there's Oliver, one of Renee's ex-pupils, and Anna's boyfriend, sort of.
Recently Anna has found her old notebooks, crammed with fantastic and disturbing stories that she wrote before she was prescribed drugs for her bipolarity. This has made her want to start writing again, but she finds that she has a massive case of writer's block. Suspecting that this a side effect of the medication, she stops taking the tablets. This turns out not to be a totally good idea, and tests all of her relationships to the point of destruction.
For this production of The Almighty Sometimes, there is a raised stage with two entrances. The stage has a sort of blue and white swirly pattern, which reminded Mr Monkey of the sea viewed through clouds from an aircraft, or water covered in thick and thin ice. On one side of the stage there is a kitchen table with chairs and a fridge. On the other there is a low chair, a table with the sort of colourful wire and ball maze arrangement that banks hope to distract children with, and a grown-up's chair. Other items - swings which aren't really swings, a hospital bed, and a truly scary light structure that descends from the roof - are brought on as needed. The production features some particularly strident flashing lights.
The most important characters are Anna and Renee. Norah Lopez Holden, last seen by Mr Monkey in Our Town is endearing and irritating by turns as Anna. Julie Hesmondhalgh's Renee is an excellent portrayal of a women on the edge between just coping and total collapse. They are ably supported supported by Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Vivienne, a good portrayal of a professional woman suddenly having her skills challenged by a patient, and Mike Noble who, as Oliver, has the fairly thankless task of reacting badly to Anna's illness.
The subject of The Almighty Sometimes is obviously distressing, and Mr Monkey had been fearing that a play about childhood mental illness would be a bit of a misery fest. In fact, it's surprisingly funny in parts. Anna's highs are exhilarating and make the lows so much worse. Mr Monkey found the final scenes, which were shaping up to be tragic, touching and curiously uplifting.
Mr Monkey thoroughly enjoyed The Almighty Sometimes even though he had qualms about the subject, and recommends it to anyone interesting in a challenging drama.
The Almighty Sometimes runs until 24th February 2018.Useful links :
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