Writer/Director: Stevie Helps
Reviewer: Matt Forrest
Some pieces of work challenge the audience and can cause a great deal of internal debate: these shows are few and far between but when they come along they hit you like a spade in the face. Rachel is definitely one of those plays. With that in mind here is the unusual step of including the show’s press release in its review.
“A show about Mental Health and Abuse that falls on Mental Health Awareness Week. Rachel suffers with a Borderline Personality Disorder. She has had to deal with abuse and trauma in her life but is the abused now becoming the abuser? Not everything is as it seems and it’s becoming hard for Rachel to trust anyone, and for anyone to trust Rachel.”
One might expect a serious, touching and sensitive portrayal of mental health issues that are rightly being discussed openly and receiving positive media attention: whether Rachel delivered on this is still open to debate.
To represent Rachel’s Borderline Personality Disorder, Rachel was played by three different actors (Louise Burns, Kathryn Blackburn and Hannah Rose). The play opens with the death of Jane (Elaine Hardy), Rachel’s mother; this sets Rachel on a path of self-destruction, impacting all those around her, including her father, Stuart (Phil Wilson), and boyfriend Elliot (Sam Burn). As well as Rachel’s Borderline Personality Disorder, we also encounter other characters struggling with mental health issues including paranoia, addiction and depression. The story inevitably leads to a tragic showdown between Rachel, Elliot and Stuart that will see their lives change forever.
Rachel is an ambitious but flawed project that falls short of delivering a serious message on mental health and this is down to the writing of Stevie Helps. The play fails to look at mental health instead, focusing on sensationalist storytelling, which includes suicide, murder, male rape, incest, bulimia, physical abuse, mental abuse and self-harm. However, the main problem with the play is that it offers no positives at all about the help and support people can receive. It paints these services in such a negative light that no one would wish to use these great services. At one point a character is institutionalised and left to die in hospital, with the nurse flippantly blaming NHS cuts: Rachel constantly goes for the cheap-shot, as opposed to using the play as a platform to say something meaningful.
At times it has to be questioned whether we are watching a ‘piss-taking’ comedy, such is the over-the-top nature of the production. If that’s the case, this could be a cult-classic; however, it isn’t advertised as this so it has to been taken as a failed attempt at taking a serious look at mental health.
If the intention behind the production is to say something meaningful then it needs a complete overhaul and to reshift focus onto Rachel’s Borderline Personality Disorder and its treatment. In addition, the play is too long and never does justice to its subject matter.
There are some positives from the play: the use of three actresses playing Rachel, who are onstage together throughout is interesting and unique: all three leads are solid and captivating. Lizzie Tupman provides the music and is ever present throughout the production; she is clearly a talented musician with a beautiful voice. In addition, there are strong performances from the supporting cast, with a special mention for Linda Meacher in a duel role of Julie and Nurse Susan; her role as Julie shows a gift for comedy performance.
Overall Rachel, needs to decide what it wants to be: either a serious piece about mental health, a sensationalist ‘grim up North’ soap-opera style drama, or a satirical look at mental health and advertise itself accordingly. If Rachel had set its stall out from the start about its true intentions then this would be a different review entirely.
Reviewed 13 May 2017 | Image: contributed