When it comes to bidding for the attention of those browsing an Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme, Going Slightly Mad has a lot going for itself. With promotional images that imitate John Hughes’ iconic Breakfast Club, as well as the promise of an unflinching portrayal of the NHS’s mental health services, it’s sure to catch many a reader’s eye. Sadly, Big Mind Theatre fail to meet expectations in this sedate, one-dimensional show.
Sectioned against her will, Max (Lizzie Lewis) – a paranoid young woman suffering from psychosis – finds herself at the Ladywell Unit, a mental health assessment centre. Unable to convince the hospital staff there is nothing wrong with her, Max finds herself struggling to adjust to the new environment. Seen as a threat by the hospital staff, Max is quickly sedated – resulting in a confusing combination of lucid and medicated episodes that lack any real substance or structure.
Going Slightly Mad’s flaws are rooted in its shallow portrayal of mental health. At 80 minutes long, it’s one of the longer Fringe productions on offer. Yet, we learn very little about the characters. There is never any attempt to diagnose Max or explain her mental illness. Attention is only given to her moments of delusion – convinced she is a god – or her drug-induced state. Instead, it is fellow inpatient Anna (Tilly Botsford) who we get to know, albeit briefly. Her speech about living with Bipolar disorder – including a profound moment on suicidal ideation – is the only insight we are given into any of the characters.
Moreover, Going Slightly Mad lacks depth. Although based on writer and director Michael Hajiantonis’s own experiences, it is quick to present a strong bias against the hospital workers. Patronising, belittling and quick to lose their temper, this hostile portrayal undermines the work mental-health workers are doing – suggesting their only interest is to tranquilise their patients rather than treat them.
Still, there are some redeeming qualities. Humour is frequently injected into the script, and the performers have a good understanding of comic timing. They also make the most of the fun breaks from reality, including an energetic lip-sync performance of Louis Primo’s Just A Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody where, just for a few moments, the characters are allowed to be young and carefree. Another silver lining moment comes in the guise of Amelia Watson, who plays a young woman convinced she is the late Irish author James Joyce.
Despite these entertaining interludes, in the grand scheme of things the play is missing the purpose and impact a work de-stigmatising mental health should have. Its closing moments feel trivial and accentuate the underwhelming nature of the drama. Although the cast do their best with the material given, Going Slightly Mad is not the gripping, authentic experience advertised.