I am not a fan of predictability - life's too short. Which is why it's good to see that Pepper's Ghost, one of my favourite MK Theatre endeavours, are equally as big fans of unpredictability in their choices as I like to be. Following on from their success with the naturalistically set and gloomily funny "The Caretaker" earlier in the year, they returned recently with a complete mood-swerve, taking on Olwen Wymark's troubling and dense ensemble piece "Find Me". I must admit, I didn't see that one coming!
"Find Me" was first performed in 1977, and is the true story of Verity Taylor, who grew up in the 60s and 70s, and whose extremely disruptive personality threw into sharp relief the inability of various institutions to be able to diagnose or cope with her problems. In the end, after setting fire to a chair in a mental hospital, Verity was committed to Broadmoor - a massively strict sentence for someone who needed help, not locking up. It's definitely not a comedy.
The piece is performed by a small group of actors, all of whom rotate around the featured characters seemingly randomly. This means that Verity is played by almost everyone at some point, as are the characters of her Mum, Dad and brother. Other characters and faceless doctors come and go, and the general effect is that of confusion and fast-paced drama - which works fine. All of the Pepper's Ghost troupe performed their tasks well, particularly Natasha Ellis, whose focussedly petulant version of Verity was engrossing, and Sue Whyte, who played Verity's Mum with breathtaking pathos in the best scene in the piece - a woman strung to absolute breaking point trying to care for her hellish daughter while still loving her.
My main problem with the play was actually the script, to be honest (the aforementioned scene apart). The story, which is clearly a serious one, with complicated issues and difficult depths, was kind of sunk under a wash of banality for much of the play. I guess it could have been a deliberate ploy, to highlight triviality in the face of such a tricky question, but if it was, it was far too subtle for me. I was just turned off by the everyday chatter of some of the characters, some of it Neighboursian in its blandness.
However, the performers did their level best with what they were given to say, and the show on the whole was a very interesting piece - it was good to see something a bit different, even if it was heavy going at times. Perhaps also I was estranged from the story a bit by thirty years of space between me and it. It's clearly the case that something interesting can be contrasted between the state of mental health treatment now and in the 70s, but what it is, I'm not sure.
Several of my young lady friends, though, have since told me that "Find Me" is a brilliant play, so perhaps I'm just missing something.And at least Pepper's Ghost are giving it a go - one of the few interesting voices left in Theatre in MK, and they should be applauded for that. Nice one.