IN BRIEF Challenging mental health love story is carefully played and written
Long-time chronic depressive Steph meets newly diagnosed manic Jamie in their psychiatrist’s waiting room and there is “chemistry” between them– they hit it off. A complex relationship gathers momentum and it all seems to go well as they lovingly help each other through their good and bad patches. But when Jamie wants to get back to work he comes off his medication, and Steph’s downs get progressively deeper, leading to a difficult and painful conclusion.
“Easy answers are so tempting” says Steph, pointing out how people try to empathise without having the tools to understand her depression. “I care more”, says Jamie, positively spinning his mania.
Jacob Marx Rice’s script feels authentic and first-hand; it’s restless, unsettled, scratchy; and yet there are tender moments amongst the heartache – Jamie’s vulnerability in revealing his self-inflicted scars to Steph for the first time, a passionate night in after a blissful evening out. But Steph’s spiral is something that Jamie can’t fix. “You’re more than your disease”, he reminds her. “You can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved”, she reminds him. Interspersing monologues directly to the audience with dialogue scenes, the script moves at a slow but comfortable pace.
Caoimhe Farren captures well the ebb and flow of Steph’s coruscating self- loathing, her wisecracking a useful though inconsistent “front” to disguise her desperate need.
James Mear plays Jamie with commitment, his unease and twitchiness palpable and real, and when his “normalisation” on medication balances out his highs and threaten to reduce him to ordinary, we feel his mounting fear and the incompatibility of all that he wants. His support and encouragement for Steph is touching and convincing, and his final distress is genuinely moving.
Director/designer Alex Howarth fulfils both roles with care and unfussiness, in a simple traverse staging with a minimal set of lights, cables and microphones.
Although it was written in 2013, CHEMISTRY seems still very current: it is a valuable contribution to the current UK discussion around mental health issues.
Love is said to be a chemical reaction, so if you mix those heady feelings with mental issues and potent medication, who’s to say what is real and what isn’t. Jamie and Steph’s journey is one of both happiness and sadness; although a harrowing watch, CHEMISTRY is worth seeing.
CHEMISTRY plays at The Finborough Theatre until November 23rd. Details and tickets here