The playwright Jo Clifford once said theatre is an “empathy gym.” If that’s the case, Lost in Thought is the dramatic equivalent of a high-intensity workout, an hour which places us so much in the mindset of its central character we’re fairly exhausted by the end.
Felicity is a bright, scholarly child who dotes on her mother Marie. That devotion morphs into concern, as Felicity starts to picture dreadful things happening to her mother. These thoughts grow in intensity and frequency, until Felicity happens upon various means of “keeping her mother safe”. She creeps into her bedroom every night at 3am to check her mother is still breathing. If she thinks of death, she spits. She recites a prayer any time she imagines harm coming to her mother. Pretty soon, it’s a full-time occupation, while Marie is wondering why her once sparky child has become so withdrawn and worried.
Mental health can often be relegated to the role of stunt in drama – a means of punching up a play’s topicality, without the writer actually investigating the minutiae of the condition. Here, playwright Lucy Danser guides the audience nimbly through the hopelessness and heartache obsessive compulsive disorder can engender, both in those who suffer from it and those who love them. In a series of monologues, interspersed with scenes together, Felicity and Marie talk with such wit and lucidity about how they experience the world you find yourself instantly caring for them, then positively aching for the frustration they both feel at Felicity’s condition.
Felicity is brilliantly portrayed by actress Kerry Fitzgerald, all nervous energy and thwarted potential. She’s matched perfectly by Lisa Keast as Marie, a congenial woman who’s baffled by how to aptly care for her much brighter – and very troubled – daughter. They have the easy chemistry (and mutual exasperation) of a real mother-and-daughter relationship. This, alongside Danser’s keen, funny script, ensures the play never degenerates into “disease of the week” territory.
Direction from Helena Jackson and staging is equally thoughtful, making imaginative use of limited space. Here is a play leavened gorgeously with compassion, yet never worthy. A tiny triumph.