Numb begins the performance in an unusual way. First, you are briefed outside that there is going to be small group interactions taking place during the play, although it's not very clear how this will be formed. The audience enters the room to very loud rock music and what appears to be organised chaos as you are seated. I was not completely sure what was going on and what I was expected to do.
As you watch Alice and Joseph curl up around each other in the centre of the floor at the beginning. Their story explains how they were born in the NHS hospital together and started their lives as a blank canvas together. The construction of gender identity is explained by milestone birthdays and what each of the children had been bought as presents. Alice was always bought something pink and feminine where Joseph was bought blue and masculine.
Numb has been written to explore men's mental health. As the twins mum is diagnosed with cancer it focuses on the relationship between Joseph and his friends and the awkwardness that surrounds them talking openly about the situation. As men often find topics such as emotions and feelings awkward and uncomfortable to open up to with each other.
The second half of the production is thrown open to the audience. We're asked to talk together with the people around us about the difficulties that they saw surrounding why the men in the performance struggled to talk about deeper feelings. Part of the scenery thereenacteded with willing audience members taking the lead.
Although asking people to discuss openly topics such as men's mental health is important they do risk alienating some of their audience members who might suffereth their own social anxieties triggering their mental health. Highlighting just how sensitive a subject like this can be.
Does combining theatre and therapy genuinely work? Although I could understand where Essence Assembly are attempting to move forward with this particular experiment Theatre. I do feel that for an hour's production performance that it really isn't long enough to develop the themes that they were attempting to tackle. For any Theatre Company to address something as important as suicide rates within men suffering from mental health issues there has to be a duty of care afterwards. They need to be able to signpost people on, should they have been affected by anything that was brought up during the show for them personally.
Overall it's an interesting idea and with the right venues, it could be extremely beneficial in helping sufferers. I do feel this work would be better suited as therapy sessions or raising awareness in the community rather than a performance piece. There are certainly some strong themes in developing that could potentially help a lot of people.