On 17-18 May, the Cats Back presented Gary Thomas’s one-man play ‘Hidden’ starring Mckenzie Alexander and directed by Niall Phillips as part of the Wandsworth Fringe Festival, London. Review by Richard Downes.
A young man sits writing words on papers, capturing stories, waiting for the auditorium to fill. He is a study in quiet composure. Then. Blam! Papers shoot in the air and scatter everywhere. He shouts, “I’m still angry”, three words which should remain a slogan for our movement. The story the actor relates is based on Gary Thomas’s memoir; Finally Hearing My Own Voice. Gary’s experiences are as so many of us share, real, brutal and unnecessary.
“Fuck me! You’re ugly”. This a father’s voice aimed at a son born with a cleft palate, a hole in the roof of his mouth and a flat nose. His facial condition leads to mockery at school and early intervention with medical services, physical and psychological. He is represented by his mother who has her own view. He is unheard and isolated, resentful of school, his classmates and the expert voices he now engages with. He finds solace in writing. Writing the stories he is unable to speak, tales that will go forever unheard; silent and unappreciated.
His relationships are poor. He makes bad choices. He is exploited, abused, violated sexually and physically attacked. He is gay and experiencing psychotic episodes, self-defining as crazy. Turning to the police for support he remains unheard. We remain ‘bad witnesses’, our voices, conditions, making us somehow unreliable. At every turn society lets Gary down. He becomes depressed. The police, in turn, become symbolic of his unreal voices, chasing, harrying, hassling, threatening, violent, caressing, seductive, loving. “Paranoia is a judgement … a small part of me knew it wasn’t real”.
Given a clearer voice through medical intervention Gary is now more confident. His past reliance on the written word becomes vocal, articulate. He engages through the written word.
The actor, Mckenzie Alexander, is a sharp talker. His speech is quick, rapid, bringing the story home in a modern vernacular. He is cheeky. The stories provide energy. The energy provides stories. Everything is fast. Too fast. The speed, the build-up, brings on more psychosis. The medical system is failing him. He is too clever for talking treatments. He has an answer for everything and oodles of resentment to boot.
The continuing anger and a reasonable fear of engagement lead to a search for self-appointed treatments, yoga, ballet, boxing, etc.. and along the way, unlikely acceptance. He comes out as gay to a boxer who he expects will hit out at him but who shrugs the news off with the equivalent of a “well done you”. Maybe there are more surprises out there. More people who will accept us, more places where inclusion might happen.
In the meantime, Gary’s mind continues to unravel stories, stories that are becoming increasingly familiar, stories that may have lost the imaginative edge that fed him as a child. Indeed, as Gary says: “I never actually did the things I was thinking about … I wanted my mind to stop doing what it was doing” before, “believe it or not I just got sick of talking to myself”.
Gary comes across the notion of ‘healing your life’ and questions why do we have to be healed? He steps out into the world. The writer becomes a film-maker, becomes a playwright. He is useful, the gregarious nature remains, takes him travelling, LA, Las Vegas. There are more psychotic episodes but having connected with his own usefulness is important to him. Gary finally accepts that some people did help. Maybe it started when he became an expert by experience and began advising the police on gay life and mental illness. Maybe this is the lesson. We all need to feel useful to someone, accepted and included. Can we have these needs met? Gary did. His story is well worth a listen. Check out Hidden. It’s real.