Electrolyte

I was transfixed. Before this theatre, music and spoken word mashup had even started the actors were milling around, testing the monitors, sound checking, chatting with people they recognised in the audience. The space felt alive, as if something exciting and different and real was about to emerge.

At the core of Electrolyte is a true story of pain and healing, and it shows.

Then Jessie (Olivia Sweeney) started twirling around the stage set deep in the round of the Queen Dome. She's bouncing around in her Nike trainers and Adidas jacket like Alex Turner's little sister, getting pumped up for a big night out in Leeds with her best pals. "I need to lose myself in something else", she says. "Something dirty. Vodka in hand, coke up my nose." I was in. I'd been dragged into Jessie's chaotic world and there wasn't a moment in the subsequent 70 minutes when I wasn't completely captivated.

Electrolyte is so much more than a hedonistic, energetic piece of gig theatre. As I wiped the tears from my eyes and joined the immediate standing ovation (literally everyone in the audience stood up as soon as it finished) I really felt like I'd been on a journey with Jessie. From the Leeds apartment party with singer-songwriter Allie Touch, to a marriage proposal in a maths classroom, to the London squat with Jim the DJ, we were with her every step of the way. She bounced from drug and adrenaline-fuelled highs to confused and tragic lows, perfectly capturing the confused, reactive visceral existence of youth.

Sweeney is absolutely fucking phenomenal as Jessie. She so totally inhabits this broken and beautiful character that at times I forgot I was watching a play. I've not seen a performance this epic in a long time. With total commitment to every second she held the space and the audience completely.

The rest of the cast were also superb as Jessie's friends, family and enemies. They weren't just a backing band or supporting characters, they were real and sincere and alive in the space too, giving each other little winks and nods, playing with the space in between the action.

You could be forgiven for feeling a little nervous about seeing this one: a play about one woman's struggle with psychosis, with a live band on stage, short rave scenes, all performed in verse with basically no set. But it was beautiful, largely thanks to James Meteyard's sensitive and intense writing; Maimuna Memon's lyrics and music; and Donnacadh O'Briain's awesome directing.

This is exciting theatre! This is what it must have felt like when audiences first watched Shakespeare. The verse tumbles out of their mouths as they build an entire world on stage, tackling massive, timeless and contemporary issues with bravery and tenderness.

As the play draws to a close Jessie implores us, the audience, to look after the ones we love. To invite someone round for a cuppa when they're feeling down. To tell someone they look good today. To be there when people need us. At the core of Electrolyte is a true story of pain and healing, and it shows. Just make sure you don't book anything immediately afterwards, as you're going to need some time to recover.

Reviews by Jim Ralley

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Jessie's sick of Leeds. A city she thought she would never leave. The aimlessness of the people she once believed she'd always need is suffocating. Wondering whether she's had enough, in a dirty nightclub not too far off, Jessie's blinded by the light of Allie Touch, a singer/songwriter with a taste for big ambition, amongst other stuff... Winners of the 2018 LET Award and directed by Olivier Award-winning director Donnacadh O'Briain, Electrolyte is an explosive piece of gig-theatre. Written in spoken word poetry and underscored by original music created live this unique production tackles schizophrenia, depression and male suicide.