We're all familiar with mess in one form or another, but for most of us dealing with it is probably not an all-consuming activity in the way that it is for writer and performer Jenette Meehan.
A life-enriching experience to savour
Mess used to be her secret, unless you knew her particularly well and had seen inside her flat. After years of dealing with this issue, she has finally summoned up the courage to make it public and to share her experience in the form of Mess Maker, directed by Bethany McHugh, with dramaturgy by Dorothy Oehmler and produced by Estelle Homerstone.
The play forms the substance of her MFA dissertation at Rose Bruford, so it’s likely to see further development, but last weekend she had a two-night run at the Bridge House Theatre, Penge.
The play is far from being just an academic exercise; it’s also a cathartic experience in the way that ‘coming out’ situations are often described. The mass of stuff we see on entering the studio is not simply a theatrical set; it is genuinely part of her real flat which she has transported to perform in. Apparently, there is plenty more where that came from! For now, we are her guests; each of us is the person who has popped in to see her, not totally unannounced but whose arrival left her insufficient time to fully tidy up. Not that it would make much difference. With all the time in the world, her room would probably never achieve a level of tidiness that most of us might consider normal, unless we live with a similar condition.
We’ve probably all seen programmes about notorious hoarders; people whose flats are piled high with a lifetime’s collection of newspapers, leaving almost no room in which to live. That’s the extreme end of this spectrum, which we are all on, but some are further along than others. Jenette is not one of those, bus she does have a large collection of stuff that has accumulated over the years that she cannot bring herself to throw away. She knows the history of each garment and treasures the memories that go with each item of clothing or object. She has friends who declutter their own homes by passing stuff on to her and she values these items for their association with people she knows, so they can’t possibly be thrown out.
She has a system for dealing with this stuff, at least in theory and in her own mind. Baskets and boxes abound. There is even a suitcase that is home to a collection, but there seem to be no boundaries to the system, hence items overflow from one area to another, things are re-classified and the scheme is frequently changed so that in reality there is no overall plan, just a sea of good intentions. Thus the room becomes the outward manifestation of her mind. What we see all around her is the expression of what is going on in her head.
It’s a mental issue and we know that theatre and comedy abound at the moment with people making shows out of their conditions. The joy of Mess Maker is that it’s not a piece of self-indulgent navel-gazing. She is not saying, “Oh woe is me. Look how I suffer. Don't you feel sorry for me?” Rather it’s a celebration of her lifestyle. One that is different, but that through it’s exposition brings us to realise that we all have idiosyncrasies and quirks; things that amuse or irritate people, but that they are all part of life’s rich tapestry.
Her finally overcoming the door, the physical expression of her mental barricade, takes us on a journey that is revelatory in terms of appreciating others, acknowledging their lives and giving free rein to her senses. Travelling the underground will never be the same again. From now on we’ll all be more observant and imaginative. But outside she misses having a secure place in which to cry, which is the upside of staying indoors. And boredom is not an issue for her. She says something along the lines of, “I have spent so much of my life trying to disappear. Boredom is an opportunity to build a world in the back of my head”.
And so she settles to a night of rest, fantasies and imaginings, before facing another day of mess and we can leave her with gratitude for having shared this part of her life and in so doing giving us a life-enriching experience to savour.