Peter Imms’ evocative play ‘Section 2’, produced by Paper Creatures as part of The Bunker Theatre’s Breaking Out season, chronicles the fallout from a spiked drink and the resultant episode of a mental breakdown on the victim and his friends. Review by Simon Jenner.
Imms and his team produced a remarkably truthful piece directed by Georgie Staight chronicling the fallout from a spiked drink. Paper Creatures was founded by two of the actors of the quartet featured here, Nathan Coenan and Jon Tozzi. They look at script synopses then develop them with the author and for this piece sought advise from MIND. It’s a refreshing creative process.
The Bunker’s black space is brightened by a moveable set by Justin Williams and Jonny Rust. The few white cube-shaped units and boards with cheery A2-sized nature photos move around to become a reception area or meeting room. In addition there are ashtrays, fruit scrunched and popped, a few props on another cube table. Benjamin Winter’s sound is discreet and cleanly functional; Amy Warren’s movement is called on for climactic scenes; these actors move with shuddering conviction.
That spiked drink marks it out from what we might associate with mental health. The accidentals, the byways by which one in four of us will suffer mental distress at some point in our life, though many won’t experience Section 2, a twenty-eight-day compulsory admission that may result in a Section 3, which lasts up to six months. Equally, many won’t experience the lifelong diagnoses such as bipolar, or schizo-affective disorder.
This latter spectre haunts schoolfellows Peter (Jon Tozzi) and Kay (Alexandra Da Silva), who’ve not met in over five years. She tells him to stop drumming his fingers. It’s also the last thing she says at the play’s end. Within that full circle there’s been a turnaround and a journey, sometimes in lightning flashes. At first we’re not meant to be quite aware what’s going on.
As Rachel (Esmé Patey-Ford) tells Cam (Nathan Coenan) in another space (rapidly spun around by the actors), he can eat all the fruit he likes, but must go out to smoke. Before he came here he never smoked. Why now? At one point Cam smuggles in a lot of old butts.
It’s strange to Peter; Kay’s been putting up with this for a while. She’s living with Cam, when he’s not in the army. Now he’s in another kind of barracks, sectioned for his own good after apparently drinking something unwittingly.
As Rachel says to an angry Kay, furious Cam’s being ‘infected’ with the schizo-affective schoolteacher Anton who set fire to a playing field. It’s not her job to pursue perpetrators. It’s everyone’s job to help Cam. But Kay’s borne far more brunt than Peter knows. It’s Rachel who has to tell an outraged Peter that if Kay wasn’t being quite truthful when she claimed she’d visited every day – there’s a reason.
Now though we’re locked in with Rachel, who gives a rivetingly account of an empathic professional with judgements to make, allowing for fall-outs. Not just with Cam.
Patey-Ford as Rachel shines at this point; as the emphasis shifts to Cam; a jittery, jokey and flashpoint-induced hour hollows out his face till he haunts himself. The ex-rugby star and golden boy of the school who joined the army: Peter’s shocked by what he sees.
Coenan’s performance jangles down the nerves; his look’s that of a sedative-fixated, memory-confused patient who Kay fears is deteriorating.
This generates the flash point: Kay’s furious onslaught at Rachel’s professionalism. She proves time and again she’s professional, but not faceless. There’s none of the dichotomy of Joe Penhall’s Blue-Orange here, partly as the emphasis is on the struggle to maintain relationships. There’s no abuse from the mental health system as often the case in these dramas. The crux lies elsewhere.
The interaction as Rachel blows her considerable top is electrifying and very physical. You feel the play could go several ways. Peter’s helpless, fixated by loyalties, quandaries and being wholly out of his depth. He warmly conveys an articulate but wholly inexperienced young man rapidly lessoned in both his old friend’s health and how much Kay – and Rachel – have coped with. The coda after the crux decision is told in brief flashes; it’s all we need to know.
If this is the highlight, Coenan’s and Tozzi’s own acting is remarkably convincing for the weight of narrative and character drive through them.
Section 2 is an urgent, compellingly written stunningly acted piece of naturalistic drama. With its open-ended, non-judgemental approach; its hopeful direction and with production values and acting like this, it should be filmed for mental health awareness week. It is a model of what happens when shit happens in the cognitive dissonance we all carry around, waiting to go off.
As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Paper Creatures Theatre made three short films, telling the real-life stories of three individuals describing their experience of being sectioned, in order to break down taboos about realities of mental illness. To see the films and to find out more about Paper Creatures go to www.papercreatures.net