Thursday, 3 July 2014

Wallace Real’s Ministry of Madness, Stepping Out, the Brewery Theatre, Bristol

I've just written a review for bishopstonvoice and filtonvoice of the most recent production from Bristol's Stepping Out Theatre Company. Here it is. 



Wallace Real’s Ministry of Madness, Stepping Out, the Brewery Theatre, Bristol

When you’ve been afflicted by a strange new disorder that makes you believe you’re a character in a play about your own life, the last thing you need is help from a polar bear who claims he’s a psychiatric nurse and a self-declared ‘swashbuckling pirate of psychiatry’. Or is it?  Because whom do you trust when anxiety and self-doubt blur the boundaries of reality and you’re in danger of losing the plot?

Stepping Out is a charitable organisation which has been working with users of the mental health services and their allies since its foundation in 1997.  During this time it has put on 47 shows, the most recent of which, ‘Wallace Real’s Ministry of Madness’, has just ended its runs at the Rondo Theatre, Bath and in Bedminster’s Brewery Theatre. 

Far from being doomy-gloomy, this is a playful, thought-provoking and above all, honest look at the perception and treatment of health service users.  A stroke of genius was having the main character, Lucy, played by five actors, representing different facets of her personality at varying times in her life, as she struggles to find herself amid the insanity of a Mental Analysis Diagnostics supervisor who colour-codes emotions, duplicitous psychiatrists and vicious Mental Elfs, Chemical Cara the crazed drug-designer who represents Big Pharma, and the callous, under-age Coalition Twins. 

Add to this the fabulous Ladyboys of Bedlam, a gloriously colourful troupe of belly-dancers (along with Paul the Polar Bear, something of a Stepping Out tradition, I understand), and a nod in the direction of the Rude Mechanicals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and you’re left with a production that is not only achingly funny but also challenges head-on all those destructive notions about mental illness and its treatment.  This, truly, is Theatre with a purpose.  














All photos © Stepping Out 2014 


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