Cheque Please is a very personal representation of a person's breakdown and resilience.
In a Fringe year crammed with all varieties of explorations of mental illness, Cheque Please manages to find an effective format, weaving scenes in Ivy's life with confessional fourth wall breaking. This illusion-shattering directness fits the material well, emphasising the distinction between public behaviour and private self, allowing Ivy to lay bare layers of anxiety and denial, exposing the fluidity between feelings of nothingness and hyperreality. Ivy comes across as witty and engaging but not wholly likeable. Prickly and acerbic, she pushes people away as they offer support. At times the dialogue does tend towards the overwritten, straining to find profundity through verbosity. That said, there are some genuinely striking images; a visceral description of what it feels like to eat, a series of solid collisions in the mouth, finds a kind of alienating grotesqueness in the everyday.
Fortunately, the script's drawbacks don't hinder the performances, and Madeline Hardy brings a complex physicality to the starring role, building her character in an unsettled crescendo of trembling, folding and fiddling hands. The supporting cast are somewhat interchangeable by design; dressed all in black they switch between Ivy's colleagues, customers, friends, and counselling group acquaintances. The staging is minimalist but sufficient, with the other characters doubling as stage hands to move blocks around to portray different scenes. When the props are removed it allows a powerful moment, with Ivy left alone in vacant emptiness, confronted by nothing but herself.
It is not always clear whether we are seeing Ivy's life through her eyes, or whether we are seeing an objective portrayal of scenes throughout these times. At one point Ivy warns the audience to be aware of her colouring the representation of her mother, but with no basis for comparison it is difficult to judge what form this colouring takes – it isn't obvious where, if at all, the voice of the playwright is not the voice of Ivy. This blurring, however intentional, seems confused rather than purposeful, making for a problematic understanding of how she sees the world. The play works best when most clearly subjective, using absurdity and exaggeration to heighten emotional turmoil.
The play is distinctly reminiscent of Channel 4's My Big Fat Teenage Diary, both in its portrayal of mental health and the confessional, audience-addressing style. However, Cheque Please lacks the congenial warmth of the TV series, instead allowing Ivy to be refreshingly irascible, snapping out at others as she descends into herself. Cheque Please is a very personal representation of a person's breakdown and resilience, but it also hints at the invisible prevalence of mental health issues in society; despite Ivy's problems with mental health, she is unable to recognise similar issues in two other characters who are struggling.