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In My Shoes
Published on Saturday, 19 May 2012

5 stars

The Big Red Van
14-27 May, 12:00pm-6:00pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Warning: Contains strong language.
 World Premiere.

In a Fringe full of personal reflections on the topic of mental health, In My Shoes is unique – for it places us, the audience, at the heart of the story.  It’s a radio play, in essence, professionally produced and recorded by the young Post-It Productions company.  As you listen, intimately and privately through earphones, to a distressed character’s inner reflections, you’re invited to imagine it’s your own thoughts you hear.  And thanks to compelling voice acting – matched by skilled editing and delicate use of audio effects – the 40-minute immersive piece triumphantly succeeds.

Together with an MP3 player, you’ll be handed a folded sheet of paper, containing the map and directions for a self-guided tour round the centre of tourist Brighton.  The recording plays without pauses, so it takes a little multi-tasking to follow along – but the instructions are very simple, and I found my way around with no problems at all.  It’s a well-planned walk, designed to be taken at a gentle and thoughtful place, and it ties in subtly with the six short monologues you’ll hear along your way.

While I was listening, I felt these narratives couldn’t ever have been set anywhere else; but that’s remarkably clever, because I realised later on that they barely refer to their surroundings at all.  True, you hear the cry of seagulls while you’re striding down the pier.  But the real point is that this isolated boardwalk, with its wind and solitude and sea-spray, is exactly the kind of place a proud and private young man would come to face his demons – the terrifying thoughts he barely dares to name.  I heard his inner voice, I understood his story… and I knew exactly what it was that drew him here.

And it’s further tribute to writers that I identified just as easily with the abused agoraphobic woman or the desperate alcoholic’s daughter, when it was time for their thoughts and feelings to play in my ears.  It’s challenging to listen to, but the scripts hold your attention with surprises and small mysteries; and your empathy for the characters isn’t demanded, but earned.  Credit’s due as well to all of the six actors, who give each of their characters an emotionally convincing voice, in many cases balanced finely on the edge of despair.

Mental health is a complex issue, and it would be foolish to claim I really learned what it’s like to stand in these people’s shoes.  But through their clever manipulation of my physical environment, Post-It Productions at least offered a starting point – and their taut script, played directly into the privacy of my own ears, offered more insights still.  There are some situations you’ll never truly grasp unless you’ve lived through them.  But In My Shoes has given me an inkling of understanding – a vital compassion, which I’d never quite achieved before.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.