The mindfulness workshop taking place in Cabaret Voltaire’s sweaty cinema room each afternoon is, conversely, not very relaxing. Our workshop leader (Katie Jane McLeod) is mid-crisis, visibly breaking down before our eyes. Although she’s preaching mindfulness mantras at us, she’s in torment herself. A controlling boyfriend has her doing all the housework, managing the finances, buying him expensive gifts, lending him money, neglecting her family and friends, all in support of his DJing ‘career’, and she’s fielding calls to sort all this, for fear of him, while trying to do her day job in HR. As we learn, it’s based on painful personal experience.
It’s a strong concept and McLeod acts the part well – manic in places, obviously stressed and furiously fighting to hold it all together. There’s a touch of Jessica Hynes’ Siobhan about her (from Twenty Twelve / W1A) and the odd Brentian moment too.
It’s an uneven journey, though. It’s too subtle at first. There’s a silent opening scene in which she frets and straightens her dress while checking her phone. It leaves us guessing what’s going on. The workshop element is not especially interactive, either, so we’re watching a woman talking at us about mindfulness without quite knowing what our role here is going to be. True, this is partly down to false expectations. The venue and close proximity suggest an interactive character comedy, whereas this piece is more theatrical in nature. But even knowing that, there’s a feeling we could be more involved.
Then the coercion storyline all spills out at once, via a call from the boyfriend. Once it’s out, it gets unnecessarily specific and detailed. We have clocked what’s happening and don’t need it spelling out quite so deliberately. At one point, she gets an audience member to read her a relationship questionnaire. Within a few answers, we’ve got the idea, and each subsequent response or anecdote offers diminishing returns.
That said, the message of the piece comes across clearly. You leave understanding what McLeod herself went through. But to fit this format, it could spend less time on the detail and more on helping the audience connect to the character.