Teamed with No One Is Coming To Save You is Paper Creatures Theatre’s new play Section 2. Written by up & coming playwright Peter Imms, it is based on his own experiences of a friend being sectioned – there is a growing number of plays (and indeed musicals) that deal with aspects of mental health, but sectioning is an area that doesn’t get the focus it needs. To this end, the company have been working with the mental health charity Mind to ensure it is as accurate as possible and represents the process in the right way.
Cam was sectioned a month ago and no one, not even Cam himself, seems to know why. It’s on the 28th day that we meet him, as well as girlfriend Kay, key worker Rachel and school friend Pete; it’s a key moment in the process as they need to decide whether Cam is alright to go home, or if he should move onto a section 3. There are moments where it seems he really has progressed, particularly interacting with Rachel and responding to memories prompted by Pete’s presence – someone he’s been in regular contact with but hasn’t actually seen for five years – but he also has moments where things don’t seem so good at all, struggling to breathe and piece even the smallest memories together. To Kay, it feels like he’s got a lot worse. Ultimately, they need to decide what’s best for Cam – is that at home with Kay or in the hospital for a while longer?
The play happens in real-time, detailing an incredibly important hour in Cam’s life. Whilst it does all revolve around him, what the play does really well is to show how important it is to consider the people around him; there is a weight on them that they have to bear, but sometimes it becomes too much and they need some support of their own. As sectioning isn’t a topic that’s widely talked about at all, this is a rather alien situation for everyone involved – so it’s little wonder it can become too much to deal with all at once.
The great thing about Imms’ script is just how natural it is; there is some brilliantly informative content, but it’s peppered with some incredibly intense emotional moments, as well as a liberal dose of humour. To me, it’s the ideal balance – it is an enjoyable & rewarding piece to watch, but at the same time it gets you thinking. Bringing people in who have had different exposure to Cam’s month in hospital is a canny method of character exposition; their conversations about the past and what they’re up to now feel right, so we learn more about them without it seeming completely unnatural. Before long, you’re engrossed in their world and feel like you’ve known them all for years.
This particular production speaks volumes about the Paper Creatures process. Rather than bring in a completed play, they work with the writer to develop it into the finished article – this nurturing & creative process has made Section 2 into an incredibly polished piece already. Their commitment to also start conversations on the subject is admirable, with two post-show talks scheduled and three video interviews available to watch online.
The Bunker feels like the ideal sort of venue for this piece, with its thrust performance space and relative intimacy. Whilst it is a black box studio, set designers Justin Williams and Jonny Rust have done a good job in recreating enough of the stark white environment of the hospital – also thinking of the practical implications, as it’s easily transformed from the waiting room into Cam’s own space by the cast. There are some nice bits of movement (directed by Amy Warren) that, teamed with Flood director Georgie Staight’s work, add that extra little something to the piece; the company move with purpose, and scene transitions are fluid & efficiently done.
The cast (made up of co-founders Nathan Coenen & Jon Tozzi as Cam & Pete, alongside Alexandra Da Silva & Esmé Patey-Ford as Kay & Rachel) are another big reason why this play works so well. They each joined the project at different stages, but have all got their characters’ tics down to a tee – whether it’s Rachel’s faith in people & positivity, Pete’s nervous energy, Kay’s torment over wanting to be there for Cam but it all getting too much, or Cam’s ability to deflect questions, these are all very real personalities appearing in front of you. Coenen is particularly impressive, avoiding the potential trap of making Cam into something of a stereotype and instead showing his situation as the roller-coaster that it is; one minute he’s chatting away like there’s nothing wrong at all, the next he barely recognises the faces around him. Clinging onto Pete’s hug as if his life depended on it has to be one of the most heart-breaking moments of the whole play, as their shared history and the weight of this day comes flooding back to Cam.
This is definitely a very important piece of theatre, that puts an overlooked aspect of mental health centre stage and keeps you thinking on it well after the final bows.
My verdict? An important hour of theatre that moves, amuses & informs in equal measure – exquisitely written and brilliantly performed.
Section 2 runs at The Bunker Theatre as part of the BREAKING OUT season until 6 July 2018. Tickets are available online or from the box office, including a limited number of £10 tickets for U30s and £22 double bill passes. Post-show talks will be held on 19 June & 3 July.