Wednesday, 25 July 2018

REVIEW: Perfectly Ordinary at G Live in Guildford


Set in the psychiatric ward of an NHS hospital, this stirring new musical with book and lyrics by Matthew Rankcom and music by Joe Wilson is a poignant exploration of six inpatients; their past, their daily routines and their journey to feeling ‘ordinary.’ 

Wilson’s score is varied – from patter-like songs such as ‘New Best Friend’ to arpeggiated ‘Absence’ but the overall feel is one of fitting calm. Bookmarking beginning, middle and end is the beautiful Sunrise; each person sings their own individual part layered on the other, but together they produce one sound. Indicative of their shared experiences, their common truth, their normality. 

What is particularly fascinating is the staggering self-awareness written into these characters. With skill, Ranckom has afforded them the cognitive ability to reflect on both past actions and thoughts about the future and to articulate profoundly. Rarely, but albeit occasionally this becomes a little sweeping, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility to assume that these life-altering conditions afford the patients a greater perspective. And it is this self-awareness nevertheless which is what makes them so ‘ordinary.’ For every relapse in behaviour, these patients take time to reflect. Some also acknowledge their need to be looked after; there is fear of the outside world which stems from an introspective idea that they have of themselves. “It’s just not my time” is the way one character rationalises their decision to return to the ward. 

There are certainly moments of lightness and this is particularly true when we see patients interacting with each other. Watching them communicate as if for the first time. Together they are more robust and the audience feel safer to digest the moments of humour which are initially too fragile when characters first appear alone.

One such moment of lightness is ‘A Summer’s Night’ where patients are given a fresh lease of life with the arrival of new patient James’ boyfriend. They see this and realise that it is possible to have relationships that will not be prevented by their illness – either behind hospital walls or when they are finally discharged. 

Aided by Wilson’s spoken sung introduction in ‘Mother to Who’, Jenni Winter
offers a maternal compassion in her performance as Pinky. She’s invested in her patients, sometimes at the expense of her own family. She embodies the NHS – depleted, overstretched, and working tirelessly to the beat of a hospital bell. In a cry of gratitude ‘Pinky’ is performed by the patients in what feels like a celebration of our public health service. 

Suzie’s infatuation with her son, or idea of having a son is tragically played out through a vicarious relationship with Noah – another patient. Lewis’ visceral performance in ‘My Boy’ harnesses the power of a bereft mother and emphasises that the love she has for her child transcends everything. Pippa Winslow’s congenial, nuanced, wholly believable and skilfully underplayed Eileen makes her debilitating condition of dementia even more devastating. And Kate Landy radiates as the innocent, sensitive, occasionally vacant girl, performing with sensitivity, intelligence and a specificity that would translate equally as beautifully on screen as it did on stage. 

At one point, it is said that there is difference between living and surviving – though even just the latter is a lot to ask. It’s true - life is not always easy. ‘Perfectly ordinary’ reminds us of this. The message is clear – let’s not shroud mental health in stigma. Instead, let’s show more understanding for those that are currently suffering. After all, what is ordinary? Life certainly isn’t, and neither are we. Maybe that’s worth remembering. 

Review by Chester Clark

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Unreserved | Price of Ticket: £15
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