Lullabies for the Lost is a play by Rosalind Blessed that explores a variety of mental health issues. It is currently playing in rep with another of Blessed’s plays The Delights of Dogs and the Problems with People at the Old Red Lion Theatre.
The play opens with a basic set designed by Anna Kezia Williams that, much like the action, stays static throughout. The design choice of a white locked room feels lazy to me and I would have preferred a less stereotypical setting for a play about mental illness. I often found the background reactions of those not performing their monologue quite distracting – a different use of the lights (designed by Mark Dymock) to pin the focus on each moment’s central performer would be useful.
Stand out performances are delivered by Kate Tydman as Nerys and Helen Bang as Sarah. Tydman gives a convincing portrayal which does not rely on tropes making the poignant and thought-provoking moments of her monologue very effective. Bang embodies every inch of her character, getting the mannerisms of somebody living with high anxiety spot on without ever parodying them. Blessed also acts in the piece - she demonstrates great comic finesse and later a skilful emotional depth to the part of Robin.
Blessed’s script makes some important observations about the public’s reaction to mental health issues, social media’s role in exacerbating problems and of the politics involved (the latter explored in an illuminating monologue about the treatment of anorexic people). However, the specific subject matter of her writing becomes repetitive and is oddly sequenced, with two monologues in a row touching upon childlessness and then eating disorders. I feel that the production would benefit from these being spread out from each other instead. More troubling than this, the play itself doesn’t really go anywhere – I think it would work better performed as individual monologues. In its current format it feels like the writer has tried to construct a plot (the characters don’t know why they are stuck in a locked room and are trying to get the door to open by talking about their problems) around the individual speeches, but has missed the mark.
Even when one character does manage to leave the room there is no change in momentum in the play and it carries on as it was before: a sequence of monologues. The mystery of the room is only made greater by its frankly bizarre ending aided by a projection that felt more like an art installation. Although the points made in this video are all nice sentiments, the audience at this point are left feeling at best baffled and at worst apathetic about it all.
The play is long. It would have been nice to see forms other than monologue used to give it more dynamics – the sequence with Tydman’s character interacting with and singing to a doll shows a glimmer of what could have been.
As the character Andy (played by Chris Pybus) laments during the play: ‘our attention spans are short’ – and unfortunately, they are tested to the brink in this unsatisfying and stolid show.
Lullabies for the Lost is on at The Old Red Lion until the 1st of Feb. Tickets available here -