Guest reviewer: Ellen Casey
Sit down, make yourself comfortable, because A Pint Sized Conversation wants to talk to you about mental health. But before you tense up and start avoiding eye contact, take a deep breath and look around! They have crisps!
In all seriousness, it’s a sensitive subject and it can make some people uncomfortable – which is why they lay out their mission at the very beginning. They want to make A Pint Sized Conversation exactly that: just a chat down the pub with your pals. It’s a really interesting angle at which to approach the topic, and luckily the four performers – Dylan Frankland, Tobias Grace, Rosa Day-Jones and Katherine Lea – are charismatic and inventive enough to pull it off.
Despite their little disclaimer, it’s not a production that shies away from the reality of having a mental health disorder. Each performer has their own personal story of how depression has affected someone they know – be it a friend, a sister, a cousin or a step-father – and they are genuinely affecting, absorbing stories. Dylan Frankland’s story about his sister is particularly heartfelt, and his conflicting feelings of frustration and guilt – even with regards to telling the story in such a public forum – struck a real chord.
There is discussion of statistics and funding in there, but in this case the practical is slightly overwhelmed by the personal. The points where the production shine are where it feels like there isn’t a barrier between you and the performers – even if it’s a well-intentioned chat about budgets.
It’s an admirable topic to tackle; I don’t think I have ever sat down and thought about mental illness, its causes and the way it’s treated, for a whole hour before. Creating that hour to talk about depression and mental health is vital to changing the stigma that still exists, and it feels necessary and healthy to have it expressed in our theatre and our bars.
They also put what they say into practice – after each monologue, which must take an emotional toll, another performer would very quickly check in, just a quick ‘OK?’ and a pat on the shoulder. It’s moments like that which make you connect with the people on the stage, a core part of why the whole concept works.
I love good stage-setting and A Pint Sized Conversation’s has so much fun with it. From criss-crossed string dangling tasty treats, to a fun segment that involves draping flashing lights over our laps, A Pint Sized Conversation uses the license of a smaller production to try new and interesting things. If at points it feels in danger of becoming overstuffed, the next segment – which might involve interpretive dance or the sound of a train being made by Rosa shaking some pasta around in a box – more than makes up for it.
A special mention has to go to a point in the production where they allow everything to slow down just a little bit, so Tobias could tell a story about his step-father – all while constructing one lone origami flower.
A Pint Sized Conversation’s approach highlights the real joy of going to see theatre stuffed in a tiny room, or with the soundtrack of a busy bar in the background; the lack of formality makes it the perfect space to experiment, to be interesting and at times a bit mad. It’s really commendable that they grabbed that opportunity with both hands – and made it a fun night for the rest of us.
My verdict? A necessary emotional discussion wrapped up in fun packaging.
A Pint Sized Conversation was at Juju’s Bar and Stage on 24 May 2018 – it continues on tour until 5 July 2018. Tickets are available online and from individual venues.