Writer: Mark Lockyer
Director: Ramin Gray
Reviewer: Harriet Brace
A show that welcomes its audience with a cup of tea and a biscuit, and late-comers with a round of applause, has a personal and self-deprecating touch – cheekily taking aim at lofty and ‘important’ theatre with a well-placed Hobnob and a handshake.
Based on the real-life experiences of actor Mark Lockyer, Living with the Lights On is the frank portrayal of his own intense struggle with mental illness; one that played out right in the spotlight of the public eye in a Royal Shakespeare Company performance gone spectacularly off-piste.
The first-person tale delights in describing the heightened reality of living with a mental illness that causes emotional peaks and troughs. With a pace that elicits a sharp intake of breath, Lockyer relates rampant misbehaviour fuelled by frantic emotional highs with no capacity for consequences.
He speaks with reckless disregard for sensitivities – even of those closest friends and family – driven by overwhelming and frustrating fears of such everyday things like work and routine. It is at once exhilarating and emotionally crushing, and Lockyer’s captivating delivery makes it all the poignant when repercussions of actions at his lowest invade the narrative.
The refreshingly honest depiction is undoubtedly bolstered by RADA-trained Lockyer’s physical performance skill. He manoeuvres about the space with unexpected rapidity and expressive, almost choreographic movements. There’s no sense of him pacing himself, which only adds to the empathetic sense of ‘manic’ that pervades the piece.
Even the studio setting echoes the subtle unravelling of Lockyer’s life as he narrates events, with backstage cables, lights and ladders strewn as if preparations for the play have been spontaneously abandoned.
Part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, Living with the Lights On is utterly unique in its witty, genuine and highly personal relationship with its subject matter – a topic around which stigma still prevails. Lockyer himself admits that the play would not have made it to paper, let alone stage, 20 years ago.
Living with the Lights On treads a fine line between theatre and therapy, and is magnificent as both.
Runs until 21 October 2017 | Image: Contributed