“it needs to evolve from simply shining the light, into interrogating and addressing the motives behind doing so”
Bipolar Me, written by Ceri Ashe and co-directed with Liam Reilly, showcases main character Katie’s journey to discover and come to terms with her diagnosis of Type 2 Bipolar, symptomatic of cycles of severe depression and hypomania. There is plenty in Bipolar Me that those struggling with mental health issues, not even just Type 2 Bipolar, can relate to. The waiting times for appointments, for example, as even with a good doctor who takes Katie’s issues seriously it still takes a year to be seen by a specialist. And between the personal lens of Katie’s story and the specialist’s medically accurate – if somewhat creatively uninspired – explanations of Type 2 Bipolar, we get an in-depth breakdown of the condition.
Ashe’s performance is a standout. From a frantic interrogation of the audience in Katie’s hypomanic state to days in bed during depressive episodes, she takes them convincingly through the highs and lows of someone struggling with the condition. The set design strengthens this portrayal, as all the action is either based in or performed from Katie’s bedroom and shows the lonely, claustrophobic nature of mental health.
Unfortunately the play fails to explore the more complex questions it raises. The main dilemma for Katie, whether to go on the recommended drugs for her condition, is thoroughly debated. She wonders whether her Bipolar defines who she is, whether the hypomanic highs aid her creativity and success in songwriting. The opportunity to interrogate these ideas is lost, as the play ends the moment she makes her decision.
Other characters in the piece also feel flat and superficial compared to Katie herself. The core relationship in the piece, between Katie and her boyfriend Mark (Matthew Betteridge), ends with an expositional line from a secondary character. Although set up as one of the key plot points of the piece, the reasons for the break up are never spoken of in detail. Beyond Mark being from Essex and, for a while at least, in love with Katie, we know very little at all about him. Then there is Gabe (Andrew Armitage), Katie’s gay best friend, who serves up about all the stereotypes you’d expect with no character development whatsoever.
By placing a little-talked about issue centre stage, Bipolar Me is definitely a step in the right direction when it comes to mental health issues being raised in theatre, but it falls short of the potential it sets up for itself. Self described as a play that “shines a light on a still much stigmatised subject,” it needs to evolve from simply shining the light, into interrogating and addressing the motives behind doing so.
“It may be a bit rough around the edges, but Jurman’s show is audacious and ultimately loveable”
With her thirtieth birthday approaching and fed up with being single, Judith embarks on a last-ditch effort to make herself lovable by reading women’s advice magazines from the 1950s. This solo clown show by Carly Jurman is clever and frequently very funny, though it hasn’t quite found its stride.
Jurman plays two characters: Judith the clown, and Judith’s more rational friend, reluctantly helping her try to achieve 1950s housewife perfection. Accompanied by a nostalgic 50s soundtrack, Judith does her best while her friend narrates and advises via voiceover. Jurman is delightfully entertaining as the mostly silent Judith. With skilled, high-energy physical comedy, a couple of costume changes, and effective use of props, she creates a whirlwind of barely controlled chaos. The performance takes brazen turns from sweet and silly into the genuinely gross. A scene involving a shaving accident is not for the squeamish, and a bit with a real, whole supermarket chicken is not for the vegan. Judith’s pouting or muttered protests in response to the voiceover are an excellent stroke, proving to be some of the funniest lines in the show.
The voiceover provides a good format. Judith is doll-like – ditzy, largely without speech, suggestible, and occasionally rebellious – as she makes a mess of following instructions. However, the recording itself is a weak point in the production. A bit awkward and stilted, the audio jokes don’t land nearly as well as the ones Jurman performs live. There’s a funny moment when Judith eats marshmallows off the floor. It works well as visual comedy. Jurman’s voiceover comment, “What are you? A human hoover?” isn’t necessary, and falls flat. Regular iterations of “ugh, Judith!” and “Judith, no!” come across tinny – it feels very much like listening to a recording rather than the present voice of a convincing second character.
The opening of the show has a similar problem. Jurman enters and announces she’s looking for Judith. The ordeal she makes of ‘looking’ and her repetitive lines, “Judith! Where are you! There are people waiting!”, feel wooden. The bit goes on for a little while too long. Following this, the scenario of Judith’s friend being locked in the closet doesn’t really make sense – are we meant to understand she’s talking to Judith from the closet throughout? A bit more development regarding this setup, who the friend/narrator is and her place in the story, could benefit the show.
Throughout the story, there’s a loose thread questioning whether modern society has progressed all that much from the ‘dark ages’ of 50s housewife magazines. Are our Groupons for spa treatments and plastic surgeries any better than the ads back then? This idea needs focusing. It isn’t coming through strongly enough for what is probably the show’s main argument.
Although it could use further development, Unlovable is wild and bold. Jurman proves herself a formidable performer as well as a proficient writer, couching some of the most important feminist questions in the craziest comedy. It may be a bit rough around the edges, but Jurman’s show is audacious and ultimately loveable.
Reviewed by Addison Waite
Photography by Taylor Burton
Etcetera Theatre until 25th August as part of Camden Fringe 2019