It can be draining, caring for someone with a mental health condition; it can consume you. Isabelle Kabban’s jagged and fragmented play captures that sensation exactly, highlighting how exhausting it can be to love someone who’s unravelling.
Drawing on her own mother’s diagnosis as bipolar when Kabban was at university, the play explores the ways mental ill health can upend the parent-child relationship. Even before her mother is diagnosed, Kabban is aware that her mother’s behaviour can be strange. Normal mums don’t lob trifle at people’s heads or hole themselves in their bedroom for days, not washing, not eating.
The writing is acutely observed and brutal in its use of detail. Kabban digs deep into the complexity of the mother-daughter bond, how mutually needy it can be, how messy and intense. The thought that she will one day lose her mother is terrifying to her. Interweaving conversations with her mother and her therapist, Kabban’s play resists many of the pitfalls of autobiographical theatre. There’s a precision and control to her performance, a contained quality.
Ruth Anna Phillips’ production uses pounding music and bursts of frantic dancing as well as a series of repeated gestures to convey mania. This sense of relentlessness is very effective.
There are two tubs of water on stage, the surface littered with pieces of paper. Kabban immerses her hands in these. She splashes her face. She ends up soaked to the skin. The water imagery feels a little underdeveloped but this remains a measured, nuanced and moving piece.