Mark Drinkwater enjoys a personal account of recovery from mental illness featured at the Edinburgh Festival
An Acute Psychotic Episode
The Vault, Edinburgh
Perhaps it is the stress of the credit crunch, but this year’s Edinburgh Fringe seemed to feature more mental health-themed shows than usual.
One of the more considered productions was An Acute Psychotic Episode, which managed to be serious without being overly earnest.
This heartfelt show was Steve Walter’s first-hand account of how he ended up in a psychiatric hospital. Among his recollections were anecdotes such as when, in the throes of delusion, he optimistically booked the Royal Albert Hall for a week.
Walter also vividly described his exploits before and during his time in a locked hospital ward. These confessional accounts made for uneasy listening, conjuring up images of scenes reminiscent of those in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
But his tale was no misery memoir. In fact, he was full of praise for the support he received from his former colleagues, acknowledging that, at his most deluded, he must have been 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 was interspersed throughout the show.
Some were self-penned songs and others were cover versions including, appropriately enough, Pink Floyd’s Brain Damage with its refrain “the lunatic is on the grass”. These musical interludes ensured a regular change of pace that kept the audience engaged.
Despite its title, the show was as much a tale of recovery as it was about a psychotic episode. It was 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 was supported by the national mental health campaign, Time to Change. It is Walter’s aim to create an environment where mental ill-health is discussed without stigma or judgement. The opportunity for the audience to discuss some of the themes raised in the performance afterwards went some way to realising this.
Mark Drinkwater is a community worker in Southwark, south London
CC 3/9/09 Flying Close to the Cuckoo’s Nest