Snap Out of It!
Pembroke New Cellars, Tues 5th – Sat 9th March, 7pm
Since it is a little unusual, it is probably worth explaining the premise of Snap Out Of It! at the start-the play is a devised piece, based on over 60 verbatim accounts of experiences of mental illness collected by directors Charlie Bindels and Lizzie Schenk through emails, anonymous surveys and interviews over a six month period. The emphasis was on student testimonies of the most common problems in Cambridge. There was some mention of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, disordered eating and self-harm, but the overwhelming majority were about depression.
The student focus was reflected in the set, made up as a student room, with the cast working amongst the sofas and armchairs in which the audience sat. Written testimonies were taken off washing lines strung across the room, used, reattached, and patterned over the floor over the course of the play making it an impressively dynamic piece. Great care was taken to respect the power of the stories themselves as the main feature, and not to draw attention to the performed aspects, or project the actors’ own emotions onto the contributions.
Each of the actors was more than capable of doing justice to the material, although Megan Dalton and Connie Chapman did perhaps begin to struggle in some of the longer monologues. They were rightly keen to show how hard it was for those interviewed to talk about their experiences, but the delivery sometimes verged on overly breathy and stilted. That said, every extract used was remarkably eloquent and often bitterly funny, and this tended to make up for any weaknesses in the acting. Luke Sumner was particularly strong in making full use of the space and giving his characters just the right degree of an individual identity.
I cried through much of the performance. Most of its power for me was in how true it rang to my own experiences and the “very particular brand of guilt” we can often feel as incredibly privileged people suffering from depression. What this play accurately recognised was that it is helpful just to recognise the reality of the situation and the feelings of those involved, however illogical they may seem. Anything else is “candy floss talk in the vinegar feeling, and I just want to be held”.
Judging by the reactions of the rest of the audience, though, the play has the potential to speak to anyone watching, and some of the most striking extracts came from friends and those hurt second-hand by mental illness. It was a brave decision to give equal weight to the man who had written in to suggest mental illness was a convenient way to dodge responsibility for “fighting your own battles”.
The play extends the dialogue on mental illness by following it with a question and answer session but it also works as a performance, and deserves for both of these reasons a much larger audience than it had last night. I’ve seen plays in the past so good my review was pretty superfluous, and productions where I’ve been reduced to politely suggesting you don’t go; here I am in the privileged position of being able to encourage you to take the opportunity to watch what is a unique, and very powerful, bit of theatre.