LIVING WITH THE LIGHTS ON
Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Wednesday 1st November, 2017
I am welcomed into the temporary, pop-up theatre by writer-performer Mark Lockyer. He shakes my hand and invites me to get a cup of tea and a hobnob. This informal, cosy beginning gives nothing away of what is to come. When the audience is all in and settled, Lockyer begins properly, shedding his genial, corporate trainer demeanour to tell us his story – and it is his story. What follows is a searing account of his experiences but this is no chummy recollection of theatrical anecdotes. His time at the Royal Shakespeare Company features, of course, including a manic episode as Mercutio. But Lockyer is more of a Macbeth, his sanity unravelling before our very eyes.
The storytelling is energised, volatile even. The incidents related are increasingly chaotic and destructive. When he tells us he has met the Devil, we believe him although SURELY it must be a metaphor for something-or-other. We are not sure…
Tapping into a long-held cultural tradition of using devils and demons as personifications of mental illness, Lockyer weaves a searing tale of calamity. In a blistering performance, he gives us a tour of his personal hell. It’s gripping stuff, sometimes shocking, often funny, always compelling. Director Ramin Gray keeps Lockyer on the move, making sure the range of characters that populate the story are clearly differentiated, and the tone of the piece forever changing. There is light and dark here, humour and tension.
More than a showcase for his skills, more even than a confessional, this autobiographical show is a clarion call for more talk about mental health and better provision of services. The lack of beds in psychiatric wards is a running motif in Lockyer’s story. Importantly, he shows us that even the lowest point is not the end; you can come back from it, you can learn to live with manic depression, rampant paranoia and so on. You can live with the lights on.
Lockyer has beaten his demon into submission. Others can too. The importance of bringing issues of mental health into the open is more than a hot topic. For many, it is a matter of life and death.
This important show from the Actors Touring Company deserves a much wider audience. Cancel your plans and head to Warwick Arts Centre. Living With The Lights On is playing there for the rest of this week. It’s a blistering piece of theatre with something crucial to say.