BROMLEY BEDLAM BETHLEHEM | London, Old Red Lion Theatre

This review contains some spoilers.

This award-winning new three-hander (written by Rachel Tookey) about inter-generational suicide is given a fantastic cast (Dan Mullane, Madeleine Bowyer, and Daniel Rainford) and direction (Thomas Martin) in an intimate, half-immersive setting. The action, although set all over Cambridge and London, and over many decades, all takes place in a purgatory-like barren forest, with tree stumps and thin metal trunks stretching out of black soil (designed by Georgia de Grey).

Playing the central figure of Sarah, daughter of abusive father Eamonn and mother of troubled son Ben, Bowyer gives an enthralling, understated performance. The truth of her interpretation brings out the genius of the writing: her own toxic behaviours both imitate and deviate from her father’s; we sympathise with her actions and condemn them.

Mullane imbues the larger-than-life, desperately needy character of the father with a beast-like theatricality. As the play progresses, we wind back in time, and see the loving origins of this toxic father-daughter relationship. Ben’s slow decline from Cambridge law finalist to suicidal shut-in is portrayed with immense subtlety and continuity: a remarkable achievement in showing how someone who seems to “have it all” can be just as much at risk.

There is very little humour here, and some will find the subject matter too upsetting to be able to engage with for two hours. However, the play’s message is clear: professional help is helpful, available, and better sought than avoided. Coinciding with Mental Health Awareness week, the importance of this play couldn’t be clearer.

Enter the forest of Bromley Bedlam Bethlehem until 25 May 2019.

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