In Numbers, Mercury Theatre Productions have carefully crafted a convincing portrayal of a young man struggling with mental health issues.
Jack is a likeable character, a fresh-faced young man who comes across as warm, honest, open, and engaging, speaking frankly and humorously about himself; but beneath that exterior, he is riven with the conflict between his public persona and the overwhelming feelings bottled up inside him, which he cannot even understand, let alone express.Henry Waddon depicts so subtly and convincingly the constant tension between Jack's yearning to go out and lead a normal life with his beautiful, patient, long-suffering and supportive girlfriend Brianna, and the cage of internal confusions and compulsions in which he finds himself imprisoned.
The play begins and ends with Jack recounting to a therapy group his humorous and not-so-humorous lists of things he is proud of and things he is not proud of.This sets the scene for a storytelling mode as we learn through various incidents, episodes and vignettes how – but not why - Jack came to be there, and started to 'open up', to talk first to the group, then to his girlfriend, about his problems.A key figure in this process is another character in the therapy group, Michael.In contrast to Jack, Michael understands only too clearly why his life has fallen apart and why he is battling against alcoholism – having been rejected and cast out by homophobic parents.
This was an interesting play to watch.It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t funny (though it did have its humorous moments).It did a good job of exploring a situation and raising a lot of questions, many of them left unanswered.What had caused Jack’s problems? Where was Jack’s family in all this?Would Michael come back to the group? Will one of them help the other, and how? Will talking always help?Or are some people, in Michael’s words, just permanently 'fucked up' and beyond the reach of 'some idiot woman and a bunch of fucked up people sitting in a circle'?
The play aimed at, and succeeded in, producing a realistic depiction of three credible young people wrestling with the mental health issues affecting their lives. It seemed to me that this three-man production, with its simple transportable set, would provide a good starting point for discussion of mental health issues in schools and colleges.