Emily’s life is falling apart.
A compelling advocate against male violence
Between knocking back her Xanax with whisky and conjuring an multi-tier unicorn birthday cake for her daughter (with a horn that doesn’t look like a dildo), she is floundering in an increasingly dangerous mental health crisis. Desperate to rehabilitate herself, she books in to a ‘summer camp for broken people’: an intensive, weeks-long therapy course which tests her commitment to fixing herself.
The beginning of the piece introduces us to Emily; a wide-eyed, forty-something, single mum barely clinging on to sanity: simultaneously scaffolded and suffocated by the restrictions and expectations of life. On the surface, she is the perfect, cake-baking mum. On the inside, she is a tangle of wires knotted as tightly as her resolve not to crack. She wants to get better: but this forces her to face up to what has been making her ill. She writes pages of achingly articulate prose; has relapses; lashes out. All the while, the impressively constructed set features projections (courtesy of Dan Light) whose significance becomes clear later on. The overall atmosphere - aided by Stacey Nurse’s lighting plot - is of a multi-coloured, tangential chaos burned onto the bones of a nondescript domestic interior. Which, as design metaphors go, is pretty accurate for the vibe of the text and
Mental health, then, is the primary driver of this piece, although Emily’s particular episode has been catalysed by a brutal rape some months earlier. This brings an additional psychological layer to the piece and hones in on something very much more specific which only really unfolds in the latter minutes of the play. The first three-quarters of the script is fairly well-trodden dramatic territory in confessional theatre; but is here both elevated and made somewhat stickier by the knowledge that the actor in front of us - Emily Beecher - is playing herself in this brave and unrelenting autobiographical show.
The closing minutes have Beecher bringing up the house lights and focusing on the rape and its after effects in angry detail. She recounts the amount of time it takes to grow new cells, nails, hair… noting how very little is physically left of the woman who was assaulted that night compared to the emotional havoc which remains. This raw address is the most successful element of the show; forcing the audience to reassess what they thought they were watching and ask further questions about both their own understanding and Beecher’s experience. It transforms the central tenet from being an exploration of mental health recovery to being a powerful invective against abuse and there is little to argue about as regards the message Beecher is delivering or the passionate manner in which it is delivered.
Beecher is a compelling advocate, and is at her best when making eye contact with her audience and intoning this manifesto against male violence. There will be few women untouched by unwanted advances, and this call to action is an irresistible and sadly still much needed reminder that we each deserve full autonomy over our own bodies.