When I run into the Walker theatre late (as ever) I barely have time to catch my breath before the action begins. As it so happens, I don't actually manage to catch that breath until 90 minutes later when we finally sat down after one of the most well deserved standing ovations I have ever been lucky enough to be part of. Let me take you on a journey...
6 people slouch onto the stage, barely grazing their twenties surrounded by tangles of leads, ominously large speakers and too many instruments lying around to count. You would be forgiven for thinking you had walked into an open mic night for local teenage bands, but then the lead actress opens her mouth and passionate, gutsy and pretty explicit spoken word pours out, capturing our minds as well as our feet with the rhythm and heart she brings.
For the next 30 minutes we are taken on a journey with Jessie and her 5 friends through their drug taking, partying and post-college escapades. They they briefly touch on deeper issues such as Jessie's loss of her father to suicide a few weeks earlier, the fractures in the friendship group and the inevitable post-college parting of ways, but overall their story seems pretty run of the mill. The music they play is great, the songs raw and incredibly performed, but you do wonder where the mental-health story line we were promised really is.
And yet that is the beauty of this performance, because 30 minutes in the whole thing gets turned on its head and the last part of the performance is a rush of songs and speeches and raw emotion that break your heart and remake it over and over again. Without giving too much away, the story line we have been following crumbles in on itself and the audience gets to feel exactly what it is like to be dragged down into that spiral of depression, confusion and loneliness. We are transported so completely into the mind of someone experiencing a mental breakdown that no one in the audience was left unaffected, and when the show ended there was one of those beautiful moments of awed silence that only ever happens after you see something that transcends any kind of labels. The mix of music and lighting was a particularly key part of this, taking you from a cosy living room to a warehouse rave and back again, without the need for sets or fancy props. The acting was also incredible, and so many times I had to pinch myself to make sure I remembered that this was in fact a theatre piece I was watching and not a Big Brother style programme of someone's life. That potent mix of great acting, versatile staging and cross-genre music came together to create something extraordinary here, and something with a message about normalising talking about mental health that I cannot support enough.
Mental health is a topic that we desperately need to talk about it in this country, and in every country. Whether we acknowledge it or not every day we lose people because they feel alone and so low they can't see a way out. We need to start talking about mental health, and opening up to those who need it. Wildcard Theatre have done a fantastic job, and I can safely say that Electrolyte is one of the most powerful pieces I have ever seen. It is on week 3 of a 10 week tour around the country, so see it whenever and wherever you can!