Depression, miscarriage, self-harm, social anxiety and eating disorders; these are the trigger warnings for Rosalind Blessed’s new play Lullabies for the Lost, playing in rep with another play by Blessed, The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People, at London’s Old Red Lion.
Eight individuals are locked in limbo, unable to escape unless they successfully confront and challenge their mental health problems through a process akin to group therapy. Blessed’s script is nothing if not ambitious.
Lullabies for the Lost contains brutally visceral descriptions of the realities of living with a mental illness, in places inspired by Blessed’s own struggles. Self-harm becomes fat squeezed out of an arm “like an unzipped sofa cushion” and depression is likened to a “slimy cave”. Her own monologue about eating disorders is raw and honest.
However, by attempting to tackle so many issues she has spread the play too thin. Topics such as self-harm are raised and swiftly dropped as the script moves on to the next character and the next issue.
Helen Bang shines as wide-eyed, vulnerable Sarah, easily switching between tales of bees in the garden and suicidal thoughts, but Duncan Wilkins’ performance is a touch overdone. He snarls and shakes from the off, leaving himself no room to grow.
Anna Kezia Williams’ stark set speaks to the isolation on stage, as do the performers’ neutral clothes and the faceless toy cradled by childless Nerys (Kate Tydman).
A bizarre video projection at the end allows Blessed to shoehorn in an appearance from her mother, the actress Hildegard Neil, without adding anything to the piece.
Though the play feels in need of a good edit, at its heart it is a thoughtful and understanding piece about mental health in today’s climate.