Hearing Things is the latest piece of theatre from Playing ON, a theatre company founded by Jim Pope and Philip Osment. The company carried out a five-year investigation of mental health, its sufferers and the professionals involved in this area.
Set in a square of sand, we meet several characters all linked together by mental health problems. The presence of the sand and the way the characters played with it running through their hands or digging into it, was quite a good metaphor for experience and memory and how mental illness can destabilise and undermine sanity. The pivotal character is Jim Pope’s Nicholas, a psychiatrist. We witness his struggle to care for his patients as the pressures of dealing with those with mental health seep into his own life. His proximity to the issues coupled with a reluctance to walk away from the profession stem from observing his father’s career as a psychiatrist and subsequent descent into mental illness.
The play laid out the issues very clearly. Mental health is tough to medicate and alleviate, and those trying to help are faced with enormous challenges. Furthermore, the question of whose interests are served when seeking treatment and the kinds of treatment that are available are always morally complex. One interesting insight emerged from the process of helping Daniel Ward’s character, Innocent, deal with the voices he was hearing. It seemed so basic: telling the voices to stop. This method can work.
The messages of the play however were not always subtle and some of the scenes were too fact-heavy. As a piece of theatre, therefore, it came across as didactic and failed dramatically to engage us. That said, it was a noble attempt to raise awareness of the subject matter and there were some good performances from the three cast members. We just needed a more theatrical scenario to provoke and engage us.