An accurate depiction of the everyday struggles in the underfunded and under-resourced world of mental health support in the NHS, Hearing Things boats a talented cast and excellent direction.
Philip Osment’s Hearing Things follows the story of three characters’ journey through mental health treatment in a South London hospital. We’re provided with glimpses into the life of Nicholas, a psychiatrist struggling with the lack of support and pressures of his job (Jim Pope, also the show’s director) – along with Janet (Jeanette Rourke), a suicidal patient of Nicholas’ with severe mental health issues and Innocent (Daniel Ward), a schizophrenic Ghanaian immigrant presented to Nicholas by his mother.
The three versatile performers also take on supporting roles in each other’s narratives. Ward plays Nicholas’ ageing father suffering with the onset of dementia, for instance, whilst Rourke playing his reverend wife – who sees similarities in his relationship with his patients with hers and her congregation – plus Innocent’s mother, who’s struggling to accept her son’s condition. The cast of three is strong and their character work is impressive. With a simple hunch of his shoulders and glaze of his eyes, Ward transforms from the confident and overpowering father to the underprivileged and struggling patient. No change of clothes, just a change of posture. Rourke is similarly adept in this talent, aided by subtle sound and light changes; there’s a seamless transition between roles and scenarios. Thought, as a white actress, her portrayal of Innocent’s mother accompanied by traditional cloth and Ghanaian accent is slightly uncomfortable amid debate around the lack of BAME roles available, especially as there’s no ethnicity specified in either of her other characters.
That aside, I was accompanied to the play by a friend (a junior doctor specialising in psychiatry and mental health) and she was extremely impressed by the accuracy of the storytelling, and proud that the story was being shared with the public. Hearing Things certainly made me stop and think about our current state of affairs, as the pressures Nicholas is experiencing are challenging to grasp: the amount of emotional time and space he invested to support his patients and the lack of support he received in return from the NHS, paired by his own issues in his family and personal life.
There’s a missing link, however, before the play concludes – and you’ll have to excuse/skip over a slight spoiler in order for me to articulate the problem. The ending sees Nicholas revealing, in a metaphor reflected from the beginning of the play, his own struggles with mental health. The way its relayed feels somewhat out of the blue, though. Something more seems needed to connect the dots, and keep the audience engaged and empathetic to Nicholas’ story: a deeper exploration of his past and his struggles with his father would for instance facilitate a more evident connection between his experiences and the effect they had on his mental health. For it’s a true and interesting insight that so many who go into the mental health support profession have previously experienced issues themselves – we just ought to have seen this come out further.