Find Me manages to reveal simultaneously how far we’ve come and how far we have to go in our attitudes to mental illness. Written in 1977, it is the disturbing true story of Verity Taylor, who was imprisoned in Broadmoor hospital after setting fire to a chair and causing six pounds worth of damage.
Yet Find Me is not an essential or devastating piece of drama. Instead it suffers from being one of those pieces frequently performed in schools because it’s about something that is profound, whilst also being accessible. It relies on actors playing multiple roles, a technique not as difficult or interesting as many people think. Very rarely is it a necessary part of a play’s architecture.This view might seem cynical but imagine a piece in which one actor commits to a substantial role of someone with a serious mental illness. There’s a lot at stake; it’s a complex emotional investment. When this burden is spread it’s lighter; it’s easier to bear witness to and easier to be involved in. ‘Multiple actors in multiple roles’ sounds like a selling point but usually it signals the avoidance of significant emotional content in favour of appeasing those assumed to be not used to or sceptical of real and difficult theatre.
However, the actors involved in Find Me tackle their roles with a competence that occasionally reveals real talent. There are weak links but the multiple role format does well to cover them. In fact, there isn’t much to criticise; Find Me is a piece easy to watch and easy to like.
This is its problem. Despite its admirable telling of an important event, it still keeps itself a safe distance from the real difficulties of mental illness. The dialogue is never inept but it is also never subtle or penetrating. It belongs therefore to the kind of ‘art about mental illness’ that can never say much more than ‘mental illness is hard’ because the way it deals with it is to try and make it easier. We’ve come a long way since the ignorance and prejudice of 1977 but until audiences can be trusted to be offered something as difficult as its subject matter, then madness is still being treated as something that needs to be pacified before it can be thought about.