Friday, July 05, 2019

Double bill of plays addressing alcoholism and other mental health issues (The Bright Umbrella Drama Company until 6 July)

In a sideways shift from their recent run of Shakespearean productions, The Bright Umbrella Drama Company are this weekend presenting a double-bill of plays dealing with some of the tough issues we tend to shirk away from discussing in Northern Ireland: alcoholism and mental health problems.

First up is Philip Orr’s Hope & Alcohol, a melancholic monologue by school bus driver Alan who describes how his life has careered out of control and come crashing to a halt as he loses grip of his family, girlfriend, job and health. Karaoke numbers sustain the pace while some gentle humour at the start helps Trevor Gill set up the character sympathetically. In this one man show, Gill morphs into numerous other figures that Alan comes into contact with.
“I thought that people didn’t know … I was a heavy drinker … [but] everyone knew it.”

Commissioned by The Hope Centre in Ballymena and first performed in Larne last October, the 40-minute play is a sobering yet unpreachy insight into the reality of alcohol addiction and its impact on the lives of those affected.

After the interval, the action switches to the three-handed Pure Mental which lies somewhere between an illustrated lecture and a sketch show. The trio immediately launch into an examination of stigmatising mental health insults before psychiatrist Professor Hertz van Rental (complete with shocking white hair as bleached as his white coat) reveals his musical Five Steps to Wellness.

Glenn McGivern, Kieran McKernan and Trevor Gill have written and enthusiastically perform a series of sketches that are spliced together to gently impart the health and treatment messages designed to overcome male unease at opening up and talking.

The mood bounces from mirth to morose with a Mastermind quiz commendably reminding the audience about some stark statistics on suicide (which somewhat justify the all male cast), while commentary on historical figures reveals how they lived with – and sometimes died from – untreated mental health problems. Being luvvies, the words and characters of Shakespeare and Beckett make an appearance. The ending needs tidied up a little, but it’s both entertaining and engaging, no mean feat for a show dealing with such a serious matter.

Tickets are still available for the final performance on Saturday 6 June starting at 7.45pm in The Little Theatre in the church hall of Mountpottinger Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, 1a Castlereagh Street, Belfast, BT5 4NE.

The National Lottery Community Fund are enabling Pure Mental to go back out on tour to eight venues, and BUDCo are keen to hear from any youth groups or organisations that feel they would benefit from the production paying them a visit.

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