The Lives They Left Behind

Inspired by the fascinating discovery of neglected suitcases, this talented young ensemble join together to present stories of the real patients of Willard Psychiatric Centre.

This piece is just as crucially educational as it is captivating

Miskin Theatre doesn’t waste any time introducing the audience to the harsh divide between the staff and the psychiatric patients at Willard; the staff cold and restrained and the patients displaying a range of thoughts and varying degrees of hope, each clearly understanding their character and their journey. Despite these two disparate groups, the whole cast prove their strength as an ensemble throughout the piece, particularly in the retelling of a character’s story, when they surrounded patient Margaret, whilst holding string to support her confession that she felt like "a fly in a spider’s web". The cast seemed to perfectly sync together, moving as one during especially hard-hitting moments, highlighting the many different aspects of life in a typical Psychiatric Centre. Personal stories of some of the characters are spotlighted and the actors do the writing justice here, performing it as if the words are their own and presenting the script's deeply thought-provoking ideas with sincerity and bravery.

Creating a number of haunting images that will likely stay with you for a long time, this piece is just as crucially educational as it is captivating, reminding the audience that each patient at Willard had a unique identity and life experiences before they were committed. This is most notable in Irma, whose musical background before her Willard arrival comes into play at several points in the show, as she sings songs from her past – a highlight being when the other patients join her for It’s only a Paper Moon. This makes for a touching glance at happiness before the moment is shattered by staff announcing that it’s "Medication time". Miskin also prove they aren't afraid to explore upsetting topics, as demonstrated in the particularly daunting lobotomy scene towards the end. This scene was one of the most controlled in the piece, actors working in perfect harmony with the sound effects at an excruciatingly slow pace, forcing the audience to face the harsh reality of the past treatment of those with mental health issues.

Although more projection was needed from a few of the cast, the piece greatly suited the outdoor venue and they did an excellent job bringing the audience into the world of the Psychiatric Centre, keeping in character even when they left the stage. Alongside the moments of eerie stillness and poignant narrative, the most powerful feature of the piece is that throughout the journey, you come to recognise the characters for their personality traits rather than simply their diagnosis. This is further evidence that the cast do a skilled job of highlighting the humanity in these patients and this continues until the very end, when suddenly we receive the heartbreaking reminder that all that remains of these individuals are the suitcases they left behind.

Reviews by Carmen Dupre

The Warren: The Blockhouse

10 Steps To Happiness

★★★★
Brighton Open Air Theatre (BOAT)

Spurious

★★★
Brighton Open Air Theatre (BOAT)

The Lives They Left Behind

★★★★
The Warren: Theatre Box

BA Theatre Arts Graduate Shows

★★★★
Exeter Street Hall

She Denied Nothing

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

We are your brother, your sister, your mother, your father, the man across the street. Racks of suitcases, labelled, and layered in bird droppings. A secret history, untouched for many years. The Miskin Theatre Company lifts the lid on the lives of the forgotten patients of the Willard State Hospital, to share the emotional stories and poignant memories from 'The Lives They Left Behind'. Touch tours available on request, please email brightonopenairtheatre@gmail.com to book.