Phantom Pain

Mon 11th – Sat 16th August 2014

reviews

Georgina Wilson

at 00:36 on 12th Aug 2014

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“I don’t know what to do any more”, says Luke with his head in his hands. Neither do I. I’m too depressed. Probably in a good way; probably because I’ve been to play whose main purpose is to point out to a generally happy Edinburgh crowd that, for some people, life is tough.

This play isn’t just a homogeneous mass of preachiness – it’s also pretty arty. Everything is black and white and red, and the cast remain onstage, glaring through Greek tragedy-esque masks during others’ scenes in order to depict the self- induced claustrophobia of schizophrenia.

Essentially this is a story of domestic abuse, but such an emotionally damaging dynamic among a small group of people has the potential to create an intensity on stage that is never quite fulfilled. The last quarter – yes I was gone: the protagonist finished the production in tears which felt completely natural and in sympathy with the general tone of the whole bleak house. But earlier there were moments when I was disengaged, even fleetingly bored, whilst simultaneously guilty that I could even be so heartless.

There is some standout acting from certain individuals: Helen Bychawski as Jenny manages to be believable, powerful and hugely vulnerable all at once. Georgina Harrison as the snappy and confident girlfriend of the traumatised best friend also maintains a witty and vibrant energy throughout; a brief ray of – if not of light-heartedness – then of something coming closer to that than the majority of the show. Alex, (Greg Layhe), the traumatised best friend in question, is less convincing when it comes to his sudden change in sympathies. A whole subplot relating to James’ possibly dubious relationship with another woman adds very little to the story.

The direction of the play has clearly been well thought though. Lighting changes facilitate smooth flash backs; the stylised blocking, un-moving therapist, and ink-spattered masks all combine to lend the production a long-lasting note of eeriness. The final scene, a conversation in the mind of Jenny, played out between her and James (Richard Babatund Odufisan) is immensely powerful and stays with me long after I have stumbled out into the suitably dreary night. I just wish the production had built up such an atmosphere earlier on.

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Emily Brearley-Bayliss

at 00:54 on 12th Aug 2014

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Phantom Pain is set in the aftermath of a death. Beginning at James’ funeral, the story that unfolds after this moment is not only sad, but distressing, disturbing and tragic. Focussing on, and drawing attention to, issues that are coming more and more into the public consciousness, this story explores the arc of a range of characters’ journeys as they try to come to terms with the suspected suicide. A brave and versatile, if somewhat inconsistent performance, it is hardly an easy watch, but very important in terms of what it is trying to communicate.

The script, written by J. C. Servante, is incredibly moving at times. It jumps between time frames, from the funeral to the consequent counselling sessions, to the events leading up to the suicide and back again. What tries to create mystery is confusing at the beginning, and at times has the tendency to fall into predictability and clichés, but is, in parts, incredibly poignant.

The show handles the topic of mental illness with sensitivity, and goes some way toward articulating the inner workings of the characters’ minds, who are all, in different ways, failing to cope with the world around them. A few of the directorial decisions make the performance messy at times, but are effective in the point they are trying to make.

A performance that starts out slowly gathers pace throughout. In the beginning some of the acting is weak, and I want to see tears of anguish instead of what could be misconstrued as indifference. However, the last scenes are very powerful - if the whole performance was up to that standard, it would have blown me away. For this Helen Bychawski deserves particular credit, and was stunning towards the end as Jenny, James’ bereaved and abused ex-girlfriend.

The cast could have definitely used the script to greater effect, as it gives the opportunity for some heart-warming and funny student-esque interactions. Everyone involved in this performance has huge potential, and should be commended for the great job they are doing in bringing issues of mental health, particularly among students, to light. They are working alongside mental health charity Mind, and the show is an eye-opening experience for those who do not have any knowledge or experience of mental health issues or abuse, and an emotional one for those who do. Even if performance-wise it could have been stronger, Phantom Pain is worth going to see because of the cause it is supporting.

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