Byron Vincent enters the venue in pinstriped pyjamas and a pair of tatty trainers, wiping his long fringe out of his eyes. Unnerving footage of a louse scurrying across a floor plays ceaselessly on a projector behind him. “Hello,” he says to the small gathering. “Hello,” we reply, to his surprise. Over the next hour we are introduced to Vincent’s experience of psychiatric treatment on the NHS after a suicide attempt put him into psychiatric care.
This is a show that asks you to re-evaluate your conception of mental illness, how it operates and how it should be treated
Amid slightly dog-eared transitions, Vincent displays the fierce intellect which pulls him away from the so-called ‘norm’. He speaks in complex, expressive similes, in one instance describing the alienating stereotype of masculinity on his council state as being “like a tattooed sofa with a wasp up its arse.” His logic moves lightning-fast; in one of the most affecting parts of the show, he rants at a flat-pack wardrobe in IKEA about the pathetic meaninglessness of everything. The flat-pack’s counterarguments are, obviously, few and flawed.
By the time Vincent arrives on the psych ward, where facile instructions from uncomprehending psychiatrists include “take a nap” and the titular “talk about something you like,” we see how poor his experience of psychiatric care has been, how mind-numbing and patronising it can be. When he is subjected to dehumanising sedation, we see how cold and unforgiving the “cocky, young science” of psychiatry is. When he calms down an agitated patient, we see how simple kindness, from one person to another, can do so much good when everyone treats you like you’re mad.
This is a show that asks you to re-evaluate your conception of mental illness, how it operates and how it should be treated. Vincent looks into your eyes and asks you what you see in a homemade Rorschach test – but really, you’re a ‘freak’ whatever you respond. It’s not a comfortable hour, but it is worth seeing – and definitely worth talking about.