Section 2  – The Bunker Theatre, London

Writer: Peter Imms

Director: Georgie Staight

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

With more people talking openly about their experience of mental health issues, our understanding of its effects on sufferers is continually improving, but its far from a new subject for drama. 400 years ago, Shakespeare returned to the fragility of the mind again and again in his greatest tragedies – Hamlet,Macbethand King Lear– placing mental health at the heart of their narrative. Plenty of playwrights have followed suit but few have focused on the plight of families struggling to offer their support.

Kay and Pete have come to visit Cam at the facility where he is being held for 28 days under a Section 2 order. A school rugby hero who has served in the army, the cause of Cam’s break-down is unclear but frequent panic attacks and memory loss afflict him. On the day he could be released, girlfriend Kay is desperate for Cam to return home, convinced being held with arsonists and criminals is accelerating his deterioration.

Peter Imms has a constructed a sensitive and informative story of three people struggling to cope with a loved-one being sectioned. While it primarily begins as Cam’s story in which the audience is shown his ability to recall happy memories and have impassioned debates about the right way to make a cup of tea, Imms also demonstrates how rapidly a “normal” conversation can become muddled and upsetting for his protagonist.

But most interesting is the pressure that caring for someone has on their extended group of family and friends, represented by Kay’s deeper frustration with the system and inability to control what’s happening. The audience accesses these discussions through Pete, back from London to see his friend for the first time in five years who must understand the unexplained changes that have taken place and the options for the future.

For the most part Imms’ text avoids preaching and instead credibly constructs multiple viewpoints, while creating a set of sympathetic characters and an easy humour that balances the more dramatic moments effectively. Structurally, Section 2’s impact does begin to wane towards the end as the overall narrative plan becomes less clear – if Imms wants the decision about Cam’s release to be the dramatic driver then this needs to be part of a stronger frame from the beginning – while an unnecessary final montage sequence adds nothing more to the show.

Nathan Coenen gives a neatly contained performance as Cam, subtly managing each gesture and movement to convey the slipstream of memory that constantly threatens to overwhelm him. Cam’s frustration with himself is very evidence in Coenen’s sensitive performance, and avoids over-indulgence in the symptoms of Cam’s illness which flip credibly between extreme anxiety and confidence.

Alexandra Da Silva’s Kay is full of pent-up frustration, raging at the system and anyone else to hand as a means to express her own feeling of impotence. Da Silva captures the mounting pressure on families to provide support with no hope of improvement, and delivers her politicised rages with feeling. Jon Tozzi as Pete is underwriter with little to do but feel awkward and useless, while a late scene in which he argues with the nurse (Esme Patey-Ford) is overcooked.

The play could say more about Cam’s experience as a soldier which adds an additional layer of complexity to the discussions that doesn’t feel properly thought through, while still short at 75 minutes, the last few scenes are a tad repetitive. Working closely with the charity Mind, Section 2is an interesting debate about the origins and treatment of mental health, and the play poses valuable questions on whether drugs and specialist facilities are a help or hindrance.

Runs until 6 July 2018 | Image: Contributed

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