The stigma and lack of awareness encircling mental health are being tackled more and more through the creative arts. With warnings of bereavement and mental illness, I walked into this play with a sense of curiosity about how this sensitive and often taboo subject would be challenged. What I saw was simple, honest and powerful.
Written by Heather Milsted and presented by drama society Fleshblood New Writing, Thoughts Better Left Unsaid follows the life of a girl named Grace, played by Rebecca Batcup, who has the involuntary ability to foresee the death of the people surrounding her. Starting with the death of her grandmother, the play jumps back and forth between Grace’s childhood and adulthood, following the discovery of her ‘curse’ and her powerlessness to prevent what she sees.
Each scene shows an emotional battle as Grace struggles with and questions whether to tell each person of their death, even though it cannot be prevented. Moments spent with the psychiatrist, the character with the supposed capacity to help and support the problem, are poignant. Waiting anxiously on her diagnosis, seeing eight-year-old Grace’s stories misunderstood and disregarded is frustrating. This involvement and ability to relate to the situation is amplified by the small performance space: with actors moving up and down the aisles, being just metres away created an intense and immersive experience.
The ability to relate to the situation is amplified by the small performance space: being just metres away created an intense and immersive experience
Lighting was used incredibly effectively, using a sharp flash each time death was foreseen. A childhood scene switched the light between parents, teacher and child, describing in depth an incident where Grace foresees the death of her teacher, the event which leads to Grace’s condition being painfully misjudged by her psychiatrist. It is these moments, where we see Grace’s situation with the most clarity, that lead to the most misunderstanding by those around her.
The highlight of this performance is Rebecca Batcup’s Grace. She aptly switches between a nervous, confused and misunderstood girl to a tired, stressed and bitter adult, with each scene hanging on her response to each situation. She presents her character as sympathetic, but also distant and withdrawn, making the isolation and mishandling of her situation evident.
The only criticism to be made is the pace of the production. The play has a slow start, setting the scene in perhaps unnecessary detail. The end is also a little rushed, with the final climactic problem proving to be predictable. Despite this, the play’s power lies in its subtlety and simplicity. You could say a lot is left unsaid.
The actors provided a poignant and emotive depiction of some of the realities of living with a mental illness
There was something all-encompassing about the story: this experience was one that could be applied to many situations. The isolation and mismanagement of the protagonist’s health by her psychiatrist and those around her is akin to what many patients using mental health services experience today. The expected support network did not comprehend or listen, drawing attention to this real-world problem.
Batcup’s performance demonstrates the difficulties encountered by people with mental illnesses who are not taken seriously by healthcare professionals, family and friends, and are excluded from society. Grace’s eventual decision to choose never to speak out due to fear of being misunderstood or disliked, or even seen as “creepy”, powerfully demonstrates the lack of openness and understanding surrounding mental health. To raise further awareness, the production worked with Warwick Mind Aware, with all proceeds going to the mental health charity Mind. With the space and resources available and a well written script, the actors provided a poignant and emotive depiction of some of the realities of living with a mental illness.