My Mental Breakdown - A Musical
We Are Kingdom
The Exchange North Shields
As play titles go, this one takes some beating and might suggest a lightweight approach to what is a sombre subject matter.
That’s not the case and at times the piece does struggle to shake off the yoke of internalised existential angst. Depression is a growing global phenomenon and has been a feature in the lives of several of those involved in the North East group We Are Kingdom, hence the motivation for the play.
The cast are young, talented and fiercely energetic. The music and physical theatre skills they employ are often a match for the potential pitfalls of such a task.
The play centres round the breakdown of Toby (Scott Thomas, who is also the choreographer) partner of Griff (Afnan Prince Iftikhar). Bethan Amber, who is also assistant director, plays Toby’s mother with Kitty Parkins as the doctor. The cast flit in and out of other minor roles.
There is no strong storyline as such, apart from the effect on all parties of a disease which society still seems hopelessly inadequate in dealing with. Being gay also brings its problems for Griff and Toby.
What the play does is mix everything up; thus at times it moves from a naturalistic scene into a highly stylised one of chanted verse, or a pseudo Greek chorus followed by a song. Then the actors may be throwing themselves around the stage. We have three live musicians on view, the writer and director Max Kingdom (piano), guitarist and producer Emily Fay Palmer-Giles and percussionist Joey Swindells, bringing a total cast of seven. With a run of only two nights, each person’s box office share is likely to buy one Mars Bar. Actually, forget the Mars Bar, as the company’s share is donated to CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably).
There is some sponsorship—from London North Eastern Railways for some strange reason—and the venue, The Exchange has thrown in support-in-kind.
The music also mixes it all up, some numbers plaintive and haunting, others punchy and in-your-face with such titles as "Be Like Me or F**k You", the latter unlikely ever to feature on Britain’s Got Talent. The audience never applauded the songs—somehow it didn’t seem quite right.
The show runs to two 45-minute halves but would be better shorter and straight through. By the interval, we know most of what is to know. There’s not much externalised landscape here—we are firmly in the existential crisis of Toby and its immediate repercussions. And the play is not concerned with the likes of subtext. We are head-on throughout. At times, this can be a mite too intense.
At the end, various audience members who had experienced similar problems came up to the author. Some of these people were tearful. All felt the play had powerfully reached out to them. Not that much theatre can claim the same. With some tweaking, it could reach out to more.
In case you think there’s no humour in such angst-ridden subject matter, l’ll mention a nice comic touch. "This is the Obsessive Compulsive Hotline," says a voice at one stage. "If you wish to be connected, please press 1 repeatedly."
It is the kind of brave production which may not see the light of day without the support of such venues as The Exchange, increasingly a home for those looking to try something new.