Mental: The one-man production showing that no one should be defined by a disorder

Mental is a one-man production that tells a deeply personal story, centred on performer Kane Power’s mum, Kim. The set of stories is primarily descriptive, with some prescriptive elements, telling the audience what bipolar is with Kim as the focal point.

Kim is bipolar, or rather, has a bipolar disorder. During the performance, Kane points out that having bipolar is like having a broken leg. We don’t say that someone is a broken leg, we say that they have a broken leg. Therefore we shouldn’t say that someone is bipolar but has a bipolar disorder. It may look pedantic, but Kane brings to the audience’s attention that it is an important point. No one should be defined by a disorder.

It is co-written by the two of them, alongside actor and theatre maker Alice Lamb, and collaborative theatre maker Tid. Kane warns us at the beginning that if some words do not sound like how he talks it is because those words were not written by him. However, this warning is pre-emptive and perhaps unnecessary. The continuity of the script makes it seem as if it was written by one person – with the exception of the final monologue, which I will get onto later.

The show having been written by only those closest to Kim helps the performance to be endearing, educational, and far from pretension. It doesn’t feel like Kane is lecturing us on how to deal with someone who has bipolar. Instead, it feels like listening to a friend share something personal and important to them.

The performance is a mixture of monologues, songs, and spoken word executed by the articulate and confident Kane. In addition, we hear voicemails left by Kim on Kane’s mobile phone, medical notes, and histories dictated by a doctor treating Kim and someone reading out a medical definition of the bipolar disorder. It is fast-paced; the writers seem intent on filling the hour-long performance with as much as they can. This keeps the audience engaged and provoked in a Twitter-age where everything needs to be concise and condensed in order to maintain people’s attention.

The stage production managed by Ina Berggren is simple but effective. At the back of the stage on the wall is a graph with two distinct lines. The essential axis is the level of happiness or sadness. One line symbolises someone who doesn’t have bipolar whilst the other line someone who does. The peaks and troughs of the line which symbolises someone who has bipolar far outstretch and outfall the other line. This creates a clear visual metaphor of what a bipolar disorder is. A mixture of extreme highs, known medically as mania; and extreme lows, depression.

On the stage are files which house props used throughout the performance. They include family photos, family memorabilia, and medical records. Kane pins these onto the graph behind him after each story is told in order to provide examples of his mother’s highs and lows.

Mental is fascinating and emotional. We begin to learn what mania is, as it is likened to being in two universes. Mania is closely associated with psychosis and Kane illustrates this best with loops of his voice and sounds. It is extremely difficult to actually comprehend what mania and psychosis would be like, but this seems to be one of the key messages of the show. We, as people who do not have bipolar, are never going to understand fully what it is like to have it. We can, though, learn as much about it and try to be as tolerant and supportive as possible.

The show is humorous in parts. One surprising symptom of a bipolar disorder is word-play. Kim thinks bipolar is not a disease of the brain, but a dis-ease of the brain with the world. During this segment, Kane performs a witty spoken-word poem about the various medication that his mum has been advised to take over the years. The medications have had little positive effect and the poem is perhaps a bitter criticism of the medicated age we live in.

In the final scene, Kane adorns an item of his mum’s clothing around his shoulders. This is to symbolise that it is now purely his mum talking. She informs us that the show is not about Kane, it is about her. This is spoken as Kane stares out into the distant darkness, almost as if he is possessed by his mother. His eyes begin to swell as he continues the monologue. It is an incredibly raw and powerful moment that concludes a solid debut performance for Kane and Kane Power Theatre.

Mental is part of PUSH Festival. Catch the rest of the festival before it ends on 27th January.