The lights come up on the black and white world of the living. Evelyn, wrapped in a long, white puffer jacket, jumps off a box. From the accompanying sound effects, it is clear that she has landed on a car and is dead.
One of her colleagues (Celeste) has been trying to contact her dead mother’s ghost (Theresa). Instead, she gets Evelyn. Meanwhile, Celeste’s boss (Robin) is greeted by Theresa’s ghost. The dead are costumed in brightly coloured clothes, clearly signalling their unsuitability for the living world: they are easier to see, but perhaps harder to understand. Both living characters struggle to comprehend what they are seeing and why, yet by the time the ghosts leave, each character has learnt something about themselves. An interesting concept is explored with 4 fantastic female actors, but raises some issues about mental health representation for me, which leaves me thinking about the show.
Characters were believable and mostly well-developed, however in places the writing or delivery seemed a little unsure of itself, using clichés which the actors perhaps felt uncommitted to: moments where characters hyperventilated and tried to determine in squeaky voices ‘How could this have happened?’.
For me, the most memorable moment in the piece, is when Theresa first meets Robin. Robin is trying desperately to ignore the ghost and get on with her work. Theresa is singing along to loud country music, and mom-dancing around the space. Certainly, this was the most heart-warming: this woman (played by Sharon Drain) was fantastically natural, an utterly convincing funny mother. Suddenly, I understood on another level why Celeste missed her mother so much, and immediately felt a little homesick- good performances remind you of your life, and in this case, make you long for your own mother.
The playwright and company describe themselves as feminists, which is (I suppose) why the cast/production team is almost entirely female. It is wonderful to see four women working together on stage, and beautiful to explore the intimate mother/daughter dynamic. Despite this, I think either of the other characters could have been male, and it would have introduced the concept of dangerously neglected male mental health: the over-worker or the secretly suicidal. However, perhaps this would have distracted from the wonderfully portrayed main theme of mother/daughter grief or changed the other characters power dynamic.
This leads me to consider their representation of mental health. The leaflet says it is a play about mental health, but no guidance is given on dealing with a mental health issue, beyond taking ones own life or hugging your boss. Furthermore, neither the performance nor the program direct anyone to where they could get help. Personally,
I think when dealing with potentially triggering themes, it would be beneficial to add to the program a small sign to where you can seek help.
Despite the traditional narrative (ghosts come to teach someone the error of their ways) this play is a truly interesting concept, in which the writer considers the importance of grief. Moss questions how we grieve: is it useful to hold onto someone’s ashes after their death? How does our grief affect those around us? The programme says that the company aim to explore ‘the theme of identity’, and as I left the theatre I was indeed considering my own experiences of death and how these had influenced my world view.
Chloe Phillips-Bartlett (20th September, 2018)