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Keep Taking The Tablets
Published on Saturday, 04 June 2011

3 stars

Friends' Meeting House (venue website)
28 May, 2:30pm-4:45pm, 7:15pm-9:30pm; 12-13, 26 May, 7:15pm-9:30pm
Reviewed by Catherine Meek

 Warning: Contains strong language.
 World Premiere.

Sunny Arts exists to promote social transformation, creating performances to raise awareness of issues which are no less prevalent for being out of the limelight. It's no doubt disappointing for them that their show didn't attract more coverage at the Fringe; I think it had more general appeal than its publicity suggests and, ironically, might have been disadvantaged by it. Both performances (A Slender Thread and Keep Taking the Tablets) were engaging and worthy of any audience's attention, as much for their quality of performance as their agenda.

The emphasis was not on the sufferers themselves, but the impact of their difficulties on the people around them - family members and professionals both in and outside of the system. A Slender Thread was concerned with young woman Louise's conversation with the Samaritan on the end of the telephone line, when she made a desperate call. Contemplation of suicide provokes all manner of reactions in people who often cannot imagine despair which goes beyond mere attention-seeking. Even for those who can imagine it - and who are often volunteers committed to making a difference - there may be limited understanding. Samaritan Diane delivered a powerful insight into the potentially hugely stressful doubt which can creep in after the call. Did they say the right or wrong thing? Was there anything else they could have said or done? Are they blameworthy in any way?

In Keep Taking the Tablets, Jane Thorne gave an accomplished characterisation of an elderly woman living in her own home, although her capability to care for herself depended on her capacity to value and administer her own medication. The real story, however, was her son's: his frustration at often-irrational communication from his mother - if she answered the phone at all - was palpable to everyone watching. Holding down his own life and career, when his parent might literally injure if not kill herself at any time, caused stress beyond description. Sadly, the acting here wasn't so strong - particularly when measured against Thorne's compelling performance - but his angry calls pleading with his mum's doctor, whose hands were tied unless and until mum  was deemed 'critical', surely evoked the sympathy of everyone in the audience. It may well have triggered some empathy as well, from members of that same growing section of the population, unofficial carers for their loved ones or their neighbours.

Between the two plays, Yvo Luna talked bravely about the ways in which she maintains her own mental health - a daily swim in the icy Channel at seven each morning, and recognising and not feeding a sugar addiction. However, informative though this was, for me it was overegging the pudding to include this on the programme. As far as theatre goes, it might have been better saved for a different slot.

Similarly, the audience discussion which ended the programme was hugely worthwhile but, for me, not at the right place and time. I feel Sunny Arts should have more confidence in the two plays, which show us - rather than tell us - what it's like to live with these issues. Raising awareness is a delicate thing, and perhaps this is one case where trying less would achieve more.

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