Writer: Ravi Thornton
Composer: Minute Taker
Director: Benjamin Reid
Reviewer: Abbie Rippon
HOAX My Lonely Heart is one section of a personal and potentially groundbreaking three-part project by Ravi Thornton which includes the musical, an app and the graphic novel Hoax Psychosis Blues which are all part of the HOAX Our Right to Hope project. These three elements tell Rob’s story, about his journey suffering from schizophrenia. The project is also developing and collecting research into mental health in collaboration with Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust.
First and foremost it is important to applaud the potential impact this project has, developing a range of ways to make the discussion of mental health more accessible and less taboo, While at the same time developing vital research into mental health and the impact the arts can have on it.
Minute Taker’s haunting score is one of the most memorable elements of the musical, it underpins every scene allowing them to flow into each other almost like a dream. Performed by the composer, the live sound incorporates excellent use of electronic special effects to help portray Rob’s growing feeling of psychosis throughout. Christopher Tendai and Eleanor Griffiths as Rob and his girlfriend Helen are both capably tellers of this rather tragic story. As musical theatre performers there are some slight technical issues with their vocals, however, they have clearly been cast for their physical skills. A large proportion of their story is told through physical theatre, which on the whole is very effective showing the progression of their relationship, if at times becoming slow and over-repetitive.
Tendai and Griffiths generally have good chemistry on stage, however, it is hard to empathise with Rob and Helen. The writing and characterisation needs a little more comic relief in order for the audience to fall in love with them and take their side. Because this production is so solemn and dark, the audience isn’t given quite enough opportunity to laugh and love with the characters. Where comic relief is written into the script, it could be played with more weight to allow the audience that emotional connection.
Danny Solomon, ever-present on stage, at first might be confused as a member of the stage management team, moving the set to where it needs to be. However, as the musical progresses one becomes more and more aware that he is a representation of Rob’s psychosis. The physical presence of the psychosis on stage is effective and emotive, helping the audience understand, to some measure, what suffering from this form of mental illness must be like. Solomon plays an excellent part in portraying this through slick use of physical theatre and his controlling, eerie presence.
The show includes many superb staging, lighting and special effect choices; a particularly poignant moment, where Helen chooses to abort her child is shown through the symbolism of as wilting flower is decidedly moving.
Because of the sincere and reflective nature of the work, the show feels long, at times it becomes a little monotonous and repetitive for the audience, especially without an interval to allow contemplation and deliberation. It lacks dynamic change and where this is attempted in the performance it needs to be attacked with more conviction.
Clearly, HOAX doesn’t have the traditional feel-good factor of your standard musical, and so it shouldn’t. It is slow moving but has the capability to get an audience talking, and on the subject of mental health, surely that is its primary goal?
Runs until Monday 1st May