NUMB, by Timothy Cobeanu, has an unusual start. 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. We enter the room to booming rock, surrounded by organised chaos as we are seated. I was not completely sure what was going on and what I was expected to do.
Overall it's an interesting idea.
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 an NHS hospital and started their lives as a blank canvas. The construction of gender identity is explained by milestone birthdays and the gifts each child recieved. Alice was always given something pink and feminine whereas Joseph was given the traditional masculine and blue.
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. Men often find emotonal topics such as their feelings and opening up to one another awkward, difficult and uncomfortable.
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 regarding why the men in the performance struggled to talk about deeper feelings. Part of the scenery they reenacted with willing audience members taking the lead.
Although asking people to openly discuss topics such as men's mental health is important, they do risk alienating some of their audience members who might suffer their own social anxieties. This highlights just how sensitive a subject like this can be.
Does combining theatre and therapy genuinely work? Although I can understand where Essence Assembly are attempting to move torward with this particular experimental theatre, I do feel that an hour long performance 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 for men suffering from mental health difficulties, there has to be a duty of care afterwards. They need to be able to advise people on who to speak to, 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.