Reviewed – 29th November 2018
“a terrifically performed and well written play”
At a time when many theatregoers are looking to make their annual Christmas pantomime visit, it is interesting to see a show set over the festive period that addresses the subject of mental health in secure ‘special hospitals’ and examines the people who probably should never have been sent there.
Head-rot Holiday is a challenging, yet entertaining black comedy that gives an insight behind the closed doors of a secure institution. Whilst in the main shocking and heartbreaking, the performance shows that sometimes in tragedy there can also be humour. It was written in the early 1990s by Sarah Daniels to highlight injustices in the way that women were incarcerated in places such as Broadmoor Hospital and subsequently how they were often poorly treated. Her research for the play found that daily life was often monotonous and demeaning, women patients were often subjected to sexualised behaviour with many too intimidated to complain.
Bringing this research to life would mean so much material to cover so we see only a snapshot. Featuring three exceptionally competent female actors telling the story of three nurses, three patients and three further characters who have had a significant impact on their lives as well as they have on them. Set in a fictional version of a Broadmoor style hospital we learn about each character through monologues and set pieces in a fast moving, engaging storyline that shows whether you are patient or carer, just how easily life can sometimes take you the wrong way.
As the audience filters into the theatre we see what we later learn are two patients and a nurse. The characters speak with individual audience members which was initially quite disarming. Should we interact or merely watch? The three actors switch into each of their three character roles with ease and are convincing as they portray three very different people. Emily Tucker was worth the price of the admission alone particularly in the manner she played the damaged Ruth and senior nurse Barbara who is in an abusive home relationship. Amy McAllister performs as Dee, Jackie and Chris whilst the parts of Claudia, Sharon and Angel are played by Evlyne Oyedokun.
Will Maynard’s precise direction means each of the scenes moves smoothly and effectively. The simple grey set (Chanto Silva) makes the audience feel that they are literally in a prison. Lighting (Chris McDonnell) is effective particularly with the monologues. The sound (Keri Chesser) appropriately supported and enhanced the atmosphere.
Head-rot Holiday is a terrifically performed and well written play, though it could be argued that some more could have been learned about the main characters and less about the disco the women were expected to attend. Anyone with an interest in mental health or the terrible injustices that went on for decades in special hospitals should beat a path to the Hope Theatre.
Reviewed by Steve Sparrow
Photography by Mark Overall
Hope Theatre until 22nd December
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: