In its scrutiny of the unhelpful, contradictory dialogue around mental health, Wiebke Green’s stripped-back production, Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands presents a simple and familiar alternative around the link between a person and their condition.
Located in the stretched rectangle of the Cavern, the venue does have its sound problems, as with other stages in the complex. As we’re introduced to Lou (played by various members of a quartet made up of Tricia Way, Josie Charles, Joe Eyre and Hamza Siddique) and their mumbling and monotonous internal thoughts, the low tones from Eyre and Siddique are at times lost under the sound of traffic above the tunnels. When Lou attends a whipped cream-filled party (one of the supposedly more comical moments which actually feels more unusual for a play of its tone), actors have to shout above the noise, and any background sound the space creates.
It all comes down to the relationship Lou has with their mental health condition, and how much that can, and should, define them. For a debut play, Melissa Dunne’s writing is consistently punchy in the incredibly quotable points which she makes. It tackles the mental health experiences of those from BAME backgrounds and it questions the ‘recover or die’ narrative. The central idea of Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands, told over several ‘scenes’, criticises the mental health ‘arc’. As I try to follow the progression of Lou’s story, this critique was striking, as I question whether or not I projected such an arc on Lou myself.
The argument is delivered with impact and honesty from Way, tapping into an intensity which is apparent in amongst the more cacophonous elements of the production. We see it reflected in Holly Ellis’ lighting design – honing in on actors with a sharpness which perfectly encapsulates the judgement and pressure others can place on those with mental health issues – and the play’s physically demanding nature. When it focusses on the link between mental health and physical fitness, members of the ensemble partake in yoga and run the full length of the Cavern. Alongside their sensitive handling of the subject matter, the four piece’s physical performances are also to be commended.
In a way, Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands, stylistically, is a balance between quieter, hard-hitting moments of exposition on mental health, and louder, overwhelming bursts of intensity. At the end of it all, a refreshing voice of reason just about manages to be heard in amongst the white noise.
Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands is now playing at VAULT Festival until 16 February.
Disclaimer: I know people in this production on a personal level, though much like my reviews of deaf theatre – or indeed any theatre show – these factors do not influence my review of the performance. All thoughts and opinions stated above are honest and my own.