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Surfacing | Omnibus Theatre

Surfacing, which was written by Tom Powell and directed by Stephen Bailey, is an intelligent and honest conversation about mental health and the adverse effects this has. Focusing on the internal waging war that Luc faces on the daily, whilst trying to remain calm and composed on a surface level, the play questions and challenges the current mental health care system. 

Luc (Sarah Livingstone), a CBT therapist, relies heavily on the "toolkit" that she's developed as she grapples with her own unstable mental health, critical voices and hallucinations. Despite advocating for CBT and following mental health care procedure, she lets down service user Owen (Jerome Yates), and this sends her into a spiral. Confronting ghosts of her past, secrets that have been buried too long, and forced to face her fears, Luc drowns in her own harsh whirlwind of thoughts and finds her world changed as she struggles to resurface. However, the plot is slightly let down by core plot featuring Luc and Owen that is often overshadowed by the small side steps that, whilst fascinating in their own right, don't quite serve the story. 

Powell has penned a beautifully messy portrayal of mental health, simultaneously grounding it in a harsh reality and an element of far-fetched fantasy. Between being confronted by a talking mouse, and fighting off the cruel taunts by one's own mind, Surfacing sits in a carefully plotted space between inspiring and shocking. The struggles will doubtlessly resonate with audiences on some level, leaving them moved and bolder. A slow but steady uplifting message helps navigate the plot, with moments of happy highs and sad lows, but ultimately ends on a hopeful note.

The two performers, Livingstone and Yates, do the script justice in their strong performances. Livingstone handles the hefty moments of inner turmoil well, but really shines in moments of physical movement, whether it be the childlike innocence of catching balloons, or the suffocating sensation of being drowned. Yates, who plays a multitude of characters, brings an individuality to each role. His weariness as Owen is well contrasted with his performance as the insensitive manager Dave, the haunting quality of Mr. Mouse, the anger and joy of Max. 

Lighting (Abi Turner) is well used to both visualise how Luc is feeling and also create an immersive atmosphere. With misty blue dimmed lighting when she's underwater or drowning in her thoughts, and a brighter yellow when she's projecting a happier version of herself, the lighting sets the tone effectively. The play also uses shadows to emphasis fleeting moments and memories well. The sound design (David Denyer) is subtler but just as effective with the eerily still silence or ocean waves roaring for Luc. Voice overs are used to input her inner thoughts, allowing for an extended internal conversation. 

The set (Victoria Maytom) is relatively bare, with a large white cloth hung to act as a screen. These expand, draping along the sides of the stage growing more tattered, ripped and burnt. Acting as a metaphor for Luc's fracturing mental state and for a stunning interaction during a moment of physical theatre, these drapes dress the stage well. Costumes (Victoria Maytom and Phoebe Shu-Ching Chan) are neatly created, particularly for the mouse (Jerome Yates), with a realistic and slightly haunting mask and claws. 

The play uses video projection, cameras and captions to great use (Ben Glover). Both effective in vocalising Luc's critical thoughts and making the show more accessible, it's a really well-thought creative decision. A number of shows using cameras to project live footage onto a screen on stage recently, and Surfacing does so too, yet justifies this with the story perspective. The team has ensured that the captions add another layer to the show, with different fonts, and allowing the words to move about the screen, and creates a nice sense of being overwhelmed.  

Surfacing is an interesting and thrilling play about CBT, mental health and forgiveness. The themes and topics discussed in the play will stay with you long after the show is over, and causes a larger awareness to begin to ripple. Surfacing is currently playing at the Omnibus Theatre until the 1st June - for more information and tickets, you can follow the link here

⭐️⭐️⭐️ (3*)

Gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Martin Bostock


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