REVIEW – SURFACING – VAULT FESTIVAL

Surfacing is the latest work from the neurodiverse production company, ASYLUM, written by Tom Powell, the production aims to utilise new technology to bring a story of mental health to life visually.

Onstage a white curtain has Luc’s (Rosie Gray) internal dialogue projected onto it. These thoughts are alike to what most people experience, they are, sometimes sarcastic and at other times, intensely critical.

Luc is a CBT therapist, we’re introduced to Luc as they meet Owen (Daniel Rainford), a new service user, as he comes in for their first meeting, having been on the waiting list for 7 months. The first task is for Owen to fill in a survey so Luc can identify the struggles he is facing, and the severity of these. This highlights the difficulty of answering these questions in such a rigid approach, how do we assign a number to our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours? Surfacing begins well, with great performances by the duo – especially Rainford as we see how frustrating this interaction is for Owen. This meeting subsequently triggers Luc, which sets a sequence of events in motion, and this is where things become rather bizarre.

The production then goes off in a different direction, with laboratory mice test subjects coming to life agitating Luc, with her boss becoming a microwave (the slowest microwave to heat food ever), and at one point she is speaking to someone, and they reply ‘caw’, like a bird, repeatedly. All of this creates a very convoluted plot, congested with too many ideas it becomes incoherent.

The two performers wear motion sensors on their ankles and wrists, supposedly to connect the visual effects with the performers, but I couldn’t tell what these were doing most of the time, unfortunately.

It’s admirable to bring underrepresented, and still often stigmatised mental illnesses to the stage. Most mental illnesses portrayed on stage are depression or anxiety, so it’s refreshing to raise awareness of illnesses such as this with auditory and visual hallucinations, intrusive thoughts, and the person losing their grip on reality – most often seen in schizophrenia or psychosis. I do suppose that the lack of understanding of what is occurring onstage could symbolise our lack of understanding of what Luc is experiencing – as we don’t ever truly understand what is going on inside someone else’s mind. However, this could be finessed further and portrayed on stage in using a better-thought-out approach which allows the audience to follow what’s unfolding. I would have also appreciated a more satisfying ending, which gives the audience hope – something which I feel was lacking here.

But Surfacing brings many important points to the surface, provoking thought and beginning conversations which need to be had for us to better understand mental health. Further development is required to clarify the message, and to make the show more cohesive. But I look forward to what ASYLUM do next.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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