Numbers starts with Jack (Henry Waddon) in a therapy session on a sparse stage and moves through the chain of events that took him there. While I’d never seen a play dealing with mental health in young men before, given the size of the conversation it’s not surprising that a play like Numbers eventually appeared. This show is rare, though. It brings suffering from mental illness to life; it’s intelligent, compelling and utterly emotionally draining (in a good way). It leaves the audience with a lot to think about.
Brings suffering from mental health to life; intelligent, compelling and utterly emotionally draining (in a good way).
What makes it so captivating is not just the intelligent script but the performance by Henry Waddon as Jack. Jack is unbalanced and furious and regretful and sad - he’s the soul of the show, and with Alex Blanc’s script Waddon is able to show off his formidable emotional range (Blanc also directed the show). Waddon wins the audience on side almost immediately.
The script is clever and completely on point but still allows for some wry humour. Numbers isn’t an essay on the causes of mental illness. Blanc wisely cuts out the psychiatrist out of his sessions and focusses on the stories of his characters. He knows them inside out. It’s also structured very well. There are thought out changes in tone. Michael (Joe Woodman), cast out by his parents and in therapy for the third time has a monologue shadowing the main theme, taken in a different direction. There are moments where the audience anticipate where it goes, only for Blanc to change the theme or motif they expected. But he also knows when to follow through.
While it is admittedly Jack’s show, the other characters fit very well. The show teases out the complexities in Jack and his girlfriend Brianna (Abi Harindra)’s relationship, and the lack of communication between them. Harindra carefully portrays Brianna’s complex journey trying to reach her boyfriend. Michael (Joe Woodman)’s suffering from severe alcoholism and loneliness serves as a complex reminder to both the audience and Jack it could always be worse. Woodman manages to portray and explore an entirely different kind of grief to Jack’s. Both performances were delivered with a lot of thought.
Numbers is worth seeing because no-one has told this story before. It’s also worth recognition because it’s a story that needs to be told. Part of the problem of men’s mental illness is that victims often imagine it’s somehow specific to them, or that they possess some feeling only they can feel. However it does it, Numbers captures that feeling and places it up onstage. It extends a hand to every member of its audience and that’s worth doing. And while the Fringe (understandably) doesn’t really bring straight, white, male, and privileged men into the spotlight, the show is about suffering. It’s about giving voices to the voiceless, and if there is anything we’re doing here (save entertaining ourselves), I like to think it’s celebrating that.