Writer: Kendall Feaver
Director: Katy Rudd
Reviewer: Matt Forrest
Kendall Feaver’s debut certainly pulls no punches, as a mother and daughter are at odds with one another over how best to treat a mental health illness.
At seven years old, Anna (Norah Lopez Holden) writes a last will and testament leaving her toys to all her friends. She then throws herself out of the window of their home. Anna may have survived the fall but this event coupled with some rather vivid and shocking creative writing, sees Renee (Julie Hesmondhalgh), Anna’s mother seek professional help. She meets child therapist Vivienne (Sharon Duncan-Brewster), who treats Anna with counselling and a cocktail of drugs.
Fast-forward a few years later and Anna is no longer a child: she has dreams, hopes and aspirations like most young adults her age: University? a career as a writer, as well as the prospect of a new relationship with old school friend Oliver (Michael Noble). The only thing standing in Anna’s way is her medication: she believes this to be a barrier to achieving her full potential and so begins a battle of wills between a mother, who wants to keep her daughter safe, and a daughter, who wants to be set free from her, as she sees it, chemically induced prison cell.
The Almighty Sometimes could so very easily have become just another issues-based drama: however, Feaver’s razor-sharp script and director Katy Rudd ensure that this is anything but. Constantly you change your allegiances throughout as to who is right and who is wrong, slowly realising that it isn’t as black-and-white as that – like life, things are far more complicated. The production raises some interesting points on the diagnosis and treatment of child mental health issues: whilst not offering an answer, it certainly offers up a great deal to debate on the subject.
The dialogue is packed full of stinging barbs and some genuinely funny throwaway lines that will leave you in one instance laughing-out-loud, and then uncomfortably squirming in your seat the next. It serves the production well, although towards the end I did feel some of the comedy-lines were shoe-horned in a little.
The cast are on fine form, Holden is a tour-de-force as the troubled Anna, who can invoke sympathy and antipathy within the blink of an eye. Hemondhalgh is fantastic as Renee, who brings warmth, humour and a great deal of compassion to the role. They are supported by two fine actors in Noble and Duncan Brewster: Noble is perfectly cast as the loving, caring boyfriend, troubled by his own family problems: whilst Duncan-Brewster is equally as good, as the caring psychiatrist hamstrung by professional boundaries.
The open space of the Royal Exchange comes into its own as it works beautifully in conjunction with Lucy Carter’s lighting and Giles Thomas sound design: one moment we are the kitchen table, next we are at the beach as we as transported into Anna’s imagination. One sequence involving the lighting rig acting as a makeshift prison to Anna is certainly a hard-hitting provocative image.
This is a fascinating, thought-provoking piece of theatre, packed full humour and heartbreak: It has a great deal to say about the pitfalls and perils of unconditional love and how sometimes, despite our best intentions, we aren’t always right.
Runs until the 24th February 2018 | Image: Manuel Harlan