EDINBURGH 2014 - BWW Reviews: MENTAL, Pleasance Popup, August 23 2014
The set up for Mental is a little unconventional. Although the show is a sell-out the crowd being picked up by taxi at the Pleasance is a small one. We are taken offsite to a secret venue which appears to be in the middle of nowhere. After removing coats, shoes and leaving bags in a separate room we are led into a small room with a bed in it. Provided with cups of tea, the audience are encouraged to get comfortable on the floor cushions and get under the duvet.
While this all sounds fairly pretentious, the reasoning soon becomes clear. This is a safe space. James is in the bed under the duvet and giving himself a pep talk in order to start the show. He explains when he emerges that the subject matter is heavy and he hopes that everybody will be comfortable with it.
This is not a play or any kind of traditional piece. It is a true life account of James' mental health problems and told in a very informal manner. He shows us the thickness of his medical records and talks us through his doctors notes and his complete mental health history. He talks about his numerous suicide attempts in great detail, both from his own point of view and from that of medical staff.
This was a truly extraordinary experience. Mental is brutally honest and you can see that some of it is difficult for James to talk about. He did a fantastic job and perservered even when he seemed to get a little overwhelmed. It is hard going and the venue staff have arranged a walk back to the original meeting point to allow people to get some air. Almost everyone looks visibly shaken when leaving and quite a few are in tears. This is a difficult and emotional piece but so important. The setting was ideal as we were away from the noise of the festival and this is a performance that should be kept intimate for comfort of both the audience and the artist.