Writer: Meghan Tyler
Director: Paul Brotherston
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Mental illness is a tricky issue to explore on stage as it manifests itself within us rather than in what we say or what we do. How do actors communicate what they feel without soliloquising at length? In her delicate new play, Medicine, Meghan Tyler attempts to reveal the broken inner lives of her characters without relying on stereotyping.
In many ways she is very successful, especially as she offers us a snapshot, rather than a medical history, of the mental illness that affects a mother and daughter in modern day Northern Ireland. Tyler plays Moira-Bridget, a teenager whose debilitating anxieties have driven her to the end of the pier of their coastal town. Her mother, Margaret, has come to coax her away from the pier’s edge, first gently and then more firmly, as if her daughter was still a child she had authority over. It’s a cold night in Warrenpoint, but both women seem dressed for the wrong occasion. Ma is in slippers and a dressing gown, while Moira-Bridget, in her sequined crop-top, seems ready for a night on the town.
We are never quite sure what has pushed Moira-Bridget to the brink, but as we see her mother pop pills we suspect that they share the same illness. ‘You’re an older version of me’ says that daughter early on in this 50-minute play. Towards its end, and in a delayed echo, the mother says, ‘you’re a younger version of me’. And as the sea crashes around them- a very effective sound design by Iida Aino – mother and daughter try to make peace, and try to make sense of their illness.
Tyler’s acting is so strong here that her illness is palpable, almost as visible as the mascara that streaks down her cheeks; it’s a brave performance. Likewise, Lynsey-Anne Moffat as the mother gives a moving performance, but her illness is more evident in her hand gestures, and in her expressive brow. Sometimes unforgiving, and at other times, full of blame, Ma is a difficult character to inhabit, but Moffat is always convincing.
While the acting is first-class, the script falters a little, and as the play progresses we rarely receive new information, and after 30 minutes the women are still fussing over cardigans and whether Pinot Grigio is best drunk with ice. It’s a relief, then, when Da arrives and the story is finally propelled forward. Suddenly we have perspective, and this comes as eerily as an unexpected moment of calm in the middle of a storm.
Runs until 1 September 2018 | Image: Alex Fine