Its not often I get to mix theatre and mental health in such an obvious fashion, but this week the Guildford Fringe Festival is home to brand new British musical, Perfectly Ordinary, a show set on a psychiatric ward. This piece is a musical gem that provokes emotional response no matter what your experience with mental health.
Addiction and mental illness are growing problems in our ever-changing world. Perfectly Ordinary, a brand new British Musical, examines these issues and asks what all of it really means. In a Psychiatric Ward somewhere in the UK, we meet a range of unique, sometimes tragic, sometimes hilarious characters all striving to be ‘normal’. Based on real life events and inspired by real people, this show is a touching exploration of the human condition.
With a subject so delicate, and quite easily triggering, I applaud the creative team for attempting to take on a show like this. The concept is clear from the start and expertly handled. A mix of delightful, sky-high moments and confusing, dark ones perfectly depict the rollercoaster of emotions that come with having a mental health condition. The ‘sanctuary’ of the psychiatric ward (excellently marked out by Joseph Edward Thomas’ floor LEDs) could also be perceived to be a trap. No two people on the ward are the same or see life the same way, but they live alongside one another and help each other the best they can.
Joe Wilson’s music throughout is exquisite, coupled with some of the most emotionally-provoking lyrics I have heard in years. One line about roses in a song about dementia (Absence) had me close to tears. Matthew Rankcom’s powerful words are at the core of this musical and cements his place on a list of top lyricists to look out for in the next decade.
A select cast of nine bring the piece to life; all of them incredible actors and actresses conveying some truly complex character traits. The conditions each of them have never get fully explained or labelled – a great move from the writer showing the amount of confusion that surrounds the different conditions. But this makes their role even more crucial – presenting mental illnesses realistically in a way the audience can understand and emote from.
Standout performances come from Peter Noden as James (the addict struggling with the effects of cold turkey) whose assured presence helps the audience connect to the ward as newcomers, and Pippa Winslow as Eileen (the dementia patient) who masterfully makes the heartbreaking consequences of the condition hit home. Kate Landy steals the show as The Girl, a character who lives in a world of magic but struggles with her own dragons. Her rendition of In Between was outstanding and brings a beautiful yet moving conclusion to the show.
The final speech from the nurse, Pinky, could use a little work, feeling slightly wordy and contrived from a character who to most on the ward would be the closest thing to ‘real’. Some moments could challenge the stigma surrounding mental health a little more, especially as it seemed all the characters in the ‘outside world’ couldn’t seem to cope with their loved ones’ conditions, which felt a little negative. But this piece is remarkably well-crafted for a Fringe production and seems as though there might be more life in it yet.
A beautiful score and refreshing, flawless lyrics package up this musical into a touching look into life with a mental illness.
Perfectly Ordinary is at the G Live Bellerby Studio until 25th July, with tickets available for the 3pm matinee only that can be purchased here. The show is part of the Guildford Fringe that runs until 29th July.