DELIGHTFUL at The Door, Birmingham Rep

The subject of mental health is often glossed over or ignored in day to day life. The concept of “mental health days” – that is a day off work for psychological wellbeing – is still seen by sceptics as an excuse to take time off. Views such as this show a lacking knowledge of mental health and illness on a national level, which should prompt action to educate and inform.

Delightful is an excellent example of how theatre could be used to help develop an understanding of, and empathy for, these issues. The story revolves around Lenni, a woman who can hear voices on a daily basis. Her partner, Jay, is dead, and Lenni can’t remember how it happened. Through an exploration of recent events in her life, she is slowly reminded of the truth she has forgotten.

What makes this production stand out is the use of headphones during a large portion of the show. These headphones build a realistic and immersive representation of the voices Lenni hears and how it impacts her life. Combining live and pre-recorded audio, great care has been taken to create an effective first-hand experience. It is this part of the production that will have the biggest empathetic impact.

The slanted set covered in multi-coloured chairs works as a metaphor for the aforementioned voices, and suits the style of the show wonderfully. The simplistic design also allowed the lighting to drastically alter the tone of a scene, and could turn a dark room full of bland chairs into a lively garden party in seconds. Ultimately, both the lighting and set design were distinct and perfectly suited to the production.

As the playwright and half of the cast, Olivia Winteringham has produced a moving piece with plenty of heart. Contrasting innocence with perversion, love with hate, there is a real range in the writing allowing an emotional journey to take place. Individually and together, both Winteringham and Megan McCormick give strong performances and convey the story well. Sadly, this does slip occasionally, leading to some segments feeling somewhat flat or underpowered (although I suspect this may be partially to avoid rupturing any eardrums during the headphone section).

Regardless, it is rare to see such a visceral and intriguing piece with a strong message. Although it has its flaws, it is still a noteworthy and important production. With further development and improvements, it would be great to see this production return as I can only see it having a positive impact on society’s view towards mental health.     ★★★★☆    Jeremy Ulster   27th October 2017