Reviewed – 3rd May 2018
“not just a relevant topical play, it convinces with its intimacy, incisiveness and suspense”
What do you do when you realise that your inner demons are taking over your life, but you are embarrassed to reach out for help because others might need it more? What do you do when you don’t get any help because you are still “functioning”? Ophelia problematises the stigma around mental health issues through the stories of three different people, connected through Ophelia and the mental illnesses they suffer.
Looking at the stage from above in a confined, black room feels like glancing at the inside of the characters, seeing the battle inside them raging while they are completely alone in this dark space. The acting is powerful, the monologues moving from intimate confessions to brutal anger within seconds. Particularly, Comfort Fabian manages to create an intimate atmosphere filled with revelations that are both honest and difficult. Director Kieran Rogers plays with the unintentional voyeurism of watching someone relating their secret inner struggles by symbolically letting one of the characters undress as she is shedding all pretence and attempts of fulfilling the expectations of her surroundings.
Although each character has a unique background and they all highlight different aspects of mental illness, there are themes that occur again and again: loneliness, shame, fear and guilt. All of these are reasons for the characters not to reach out for help. It is the insistence of functioning in our society and the stigmatisation of illness that creates a dilemma for them, preventing them from getting the help they need.
Despite this powerful message and the many important issues the play addresses, it has lengths at times and the ending is rather abrupt. After having seen the agonies those three people suffer, it would have been good to see some solutions, but Ophelia leaves the audience with more questions than answers. Personifying mental illness as Ophelia and presenting it like a relationship contributes to the understanding of the struggles of those affected but it soon becomes rather distracting with questions about Ophelia overshadowing the actual topic.
Nevertheless, the play contributes to the understanding of mental illness, showing vividly that it is not just about pulling yourself together, that it goes much deeper than some people might think, and that those affected desperately need help. By criticising the stigmatisation of mental health, it demonstrates that this is a problem that is not yet taken seriously enough in the public debate. Ophelia, however, is not just a relevant topical play, it convinces with its intimacy, incisiveness and suspense.
Reviewed by Laura Thorn
Etcetera Theatre until 20th May