the spectre of madness hovers ever closer, but a vein of bizarre comedy prevents either piece from becoming bleak
The show is a co-production between Stepping Out Theatre and Coffee House Theatre, two community-based companies where artists with mental health or addiction issues collaborate with professional actors and directors. Both monologues have an eerie atmosphere with the spectre of madness hovering ever closer, but a vein of bizarre comedy prevents either piece from becoming bleak.
The first monologue, "Waiting for Ison", charts Simon’s (Mark Breckon) obsession with a distant comet, and his slackening grip on reality as he isolates himself in his attic. Breckon gives an understated performance, and his delivery allows Simon’s increasingly odd behaviour to be both comedic and disturbing. Emma Stadon’s writing really comes to life in the romantic language used to describe Ison, giving Simon’s infatuation an air of profundity despite its origin in a troubled mind. The highlight of the piece, in which the comet whispers back to Simon as it approaches the sun, is incredibly poetic and brought to life by well-judged changes in lighting.
The second piece, Katherine Melmore’s "Insiders", is even better, describing a mental health patient’s Kafkaesque transformation into a spider. The writing is incredibly immersive and sensual, and was brought to life by Joanna Smith’s excited delivery (she shares the role with Stadon, and they alternate on different nights). The monologue describes the protagonist’s sensations after her transformation with disarming detail, from moving on eight legs to devouring a fly. Smith’s magnetic eyes, and the clever use of crutches to portray her new body, meant I saw through the spider’s eyes and was captivated by its every movement. Despite the small stage, she didn’t shy away from the spider’s strange physicality.
The two monologues offer a different experience from a lot of Fringe shows. Though unlikely to inspire much strong emotion or offer a radically new perspective on mental health issues, both pieces wrap the audience in their haunting atmosphere and revel in their own oddness.