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3 starsReviewed by Richard Stamp
Underground Venues
Run ended

One of many plays at this year’s Buxton Fringe to tackle the tricky subject of mental health, Broken is a subtle and considered work, focussing on the inner thoughts of a patient in a psychological ward and the efforts of her doctors to treat her.  The play poses some big questions and features some compelling acting, though I felt in the end that it hadn’t achieved quite all it had aimed for.

The script relies a little too much on monologues from a psychologist, Helen, who’s returning to work following a profound personal tragedy of her own. The idea’s a good one, but the writing here is a touch heavy-handed; Helen’s appearances follow a too-predictable pattern and, to be honest, are just far too long. This is, however, no reflection on actor Una Love, who works well to develop Helen’s relationship with the unresponsive patient May.

Hannah Keeley puts in a commendably credible performance as May, at times overcome by panic, and at other times seemingly filled with joy. She’s visited by two friends – the reassuring yet controlling Tom, and the free-spirited Carla – who cleverly embody the choices facing May’s psychologists and, perhaps, May herself. As her story continues, we come to realise that what we’re seeing might not be quite what we originally believed, and May’s recollections reveal more and more about the events which have brought her here. A couple of plotlines seemed to be left hanging, but the images the actors built up came together in the end – delivering a believable and genuinely satisfying resolution to May’s personal mystery.

The trouble is, I wasn’t quite sure what Broken was trying to tell me. There’s a suggestion – hinted at early on, but made much more explicit later – that May’s being deliberately mistreated. But I didn’t entirely grasp why that was happening, and I wasn’t sure whether it was a side-story or a crucial plot point. The script is mainly concerned with whether it’s better to treat psychological conditions using medicine or talking therapies, but I felt it never truly came to terms with that issue; with so much ambiguity around exactly what was happening to May, the opportunity for informed debate was largely lost.

My main complaint, though, is simply that Broken laboured its points too much, delivering a lecture when it should just be getting on with telling the story. And that’s good news, because it’s a relatively easy problem to fix. So, I salute Organised Chaos for their responsible approach to a complex subject – and for some restrained, high-quality acting. A firmer hand with the editor’s pen will turn this into the play it wants and deserves to be.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Buxton 2013.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.