Edinburgh review: An acute psychotic episode

An Acute Psychotic Episode

Steve Walter

The Vault


 4 stars ****


Perhaps it was the stresses of the credit crunch, as this year’s Edinburgh Fringe seemed to feature mental health themed shows more than usual. One of the more considered productions on offer at the month-long festival was An Acute Psychotic Episode, which managed to be serious without being overly earnest.

This heartfelt show was Steve Walter’s first hand account how he ended up in a psychiatric hospital. In amongst his recollections, are anecdotes such as when, in the throes of delusion, he optimistically booked the Albert Hall for a week.

Walter also vividly describes his exploits both before and during his time in a locked hospital ward. These confessional accounts made for uneasy listening, conjuring up images of scenes reminiscent of ones in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

But the tale was no misery memoir. In fact, he’s full of praise for the support he received from his former colleagues – acknowledging that, at his most deluded, he must have been quite a handful to work with. 

In some ways, this was a relatively low-tech production. There was no elaborate lighting and there were few props. But alongside Walter was Steve Antoni, an accomplished guitarist, whose music is interspersed throughout the show. Some are self-penned songs and others are cover versions, including, appropriately enough, Pink Floyd’s Brain Damage with it’s refrain ‘the lunatic is on the grass’. These musical interludes ensure a regular change of pace that keeps the audience engaged.

In spite of its title, the show is as much a tale of recovery as it is about a psychotic episode. It’s about the restoration of balance in Walter’s life. Even if it does not resonate with everyone’s experience, it should serve to inspire service users, carers and professionals alike.

The show is supported by the national mental health Time to Change campaign, and it’s Walter’s aim is to create an environment where mental ill health being discussed without stigma or judgement.. After the performance, there was an opportunity for the audience to discuss some of the themes raised. It certainly went some way to realising Walter’s aim to get people talking freely about the subject. 

Mark Drinkwater is a community worker in Southwark, south London.

 To read Steve Walter’s Rethink blog visit www.rethink.org/blogs

 (see also www.makingconnectionsmatter.org and http://web.me.com/stevewalter  )

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