Lullabies For The Lost
Old Red Lion Theatre
Reviewed – 9th January 2020
“At times there is a distinct Twilight Zone vibe, with the exact setting a mysterious and surreal uncertainty”
Airing dirty laundry in public is rarely a helpful exercise. But in Rosalind Blessed’s new play Lullabies for the Lost the sharing of secrets and anxieties becomes a step on the path to healing.
The piece is being staged in rep at the Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington (alongside her play The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People), with chances to see each piece separately or across an afternoon and evening.
The two plays complement each other and Blessed has suggested that they exist in parallel realities. Significantly they both feature canine heroes, dogs which play their part in helping troubled people to move on, offering unconditional love.
This longer and newer play is more obviously about mental health, inhabited as it is by eight very different people relating struggles ranging from eating disorders to childlessness through depression and anxiety.
On an effective clinical white set (Anna Kezia Williams) on which white boxes are scattered and used for furniture eight characters are in search of an escape from their various issues. There is a sense that sharing with others is an important part of the process but it is initially unclear who they are – a gathering of supportive friends? A therapy group? A heavenly waiting room?
As each tells their story they gaze at a locked door hoping that this time it will open and allow them to exit rather than constantly having to relive their narrative. At times there is a distinct Twilight Zone vibe, with the exact setting a mysterious and surreal uncertainty.
For one, apparently newer, member of the group, Larry (a performance of studied apprehension from Chris Porter) there is a fear of going out, a secret demon urging his nervous side not to bother.
Another, Nerys, (Kate Tydman) has turned to collecting – not hoarding, she assures us – envious of a rat in her house who can have hundreds of babies while she constantly suffers miscarriages.
Then there’s Sarah (Helen Bang, exuding a confidence plagued by low self worth) a sensitive and lonely soul who has given up on love, wrapping herself in cotton wool of banality, and “Brothers Grimm” Tim (Liam Mulvery) and Jez (Nick Murphey), both having contemplated suicide but each unaware of the other’s state of mind.
As emotions are laid bare we understand the importance of communication, the need to share and concentrate on the light rather than the darkness. Shades of lighting (Mark Dymock) contrast the brightness of the characters relating to and opening up to each other and the relative dimness of inner conflict.
Rosalind Blessed plays Robin, a bulimic suffering from low self image, while Ash (an edgy Duncan Wilkins) is a cynical and sarcastic anorexic confined to an eating disorder unit.
It is only when we hear from Andy (a powerful and ardent Chris Pybus) that we sense anyone sees light at the end of the tunnel. Although feeling that he is stuck in mud, a rescue dog helps him to look beyond himself and his self-judging depression.
Blessed’s writing ensures that each of these people matter and the audience (occasionally addressed directly) are on their side, not only wanting them to face up to their anxieties and inner conflicts but to conquer them.
While often uncomfortably intense there are welcome bursts of humour and a relief that these likeable individuals encourage one another to be positive and hopeful.
As “Ma” appears (a warm film cameo from Blessed’s mother, Hildegard Neil) as an affirming voice from beyond confinement, there is a crucial message about sharing issues, not wasting life, the value of looking for purpose through beauty, love, nature, laughter, art and sport instead of meaningless self-obsession.
Lullabies for the Lost is a wise and important contribution to understanding mental health issues, not least underlining the valuable and vital role of sharing and realising you need never suffer alone.
Reviewed by David Guest
Photography by Adam Trigg
Lullabies For The Lost
Old Red Lion Theatre until 1st February
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: