Theatre & Film

Review: Mad to Be Normal at Chapter Arts.

Last night I popped into Chapter Arts with my lovely friend to see Mad to Be Normal, and I didn’t really know what to expect. The story follows R.D. Laing, a psychiatrist with untraditional methods, as he challenges the world to reject Electro-convulsive Therapy (E.C.T), sectioning and sedation and instead offers other methods to help draw out memories and ride through them, letting nature take its course surrounded by the help and support of others.

The soundtrack had me from the start, the 60’s and 70’s vibe hooked me and I couldn’t help but nod my head to the Kinks as You Really Got Me burst from the speakers and the footage of all those years gone by flashed on the screen. This, alongside the classic velvet suits, mini-skirts and paisley prints, created an ambience rich in layers and textures and voices of the era.

In my honest opinion, I think we’re all a bit mad. I can’t say I’ve ever met, what people describe as the elusive ‘normal’ person, yet the varying degrees with which we are afflicted results in a myriad of psychological responses. I also believe it’s true that we are a result of our childhood, our upbringing and experiences mould us and create this individuality, leaving us as adults to fight through storms of depression anxiety or other mental health issues, such as schizophrenia, the main focus of this film.

E.C.T has always been one of those treatments that makes me shudder, ever since the first time I saw Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest I’ve had extremely strong opinions about such treatments. I feel the same about pills, as you’ll know if you read this blog post. I feel medication clouds the mind and makes a person vacant, not really tackling the real problem.

When it comes to mental health I always describe the times of sadness, depression and anxiety as the ‘big black cloud’, because I believe that one day the cloud will pass but you will continue on. I think this could be a useful description with regards to Laing, his beliefs and this film.

A few years ago when I was struggling with my Dad’s terminal illness, I met a woman I will call N. N listened, she didn’t time our sessions, she got on my level with me and she held my hand (both literally and metaphorically), she guided me and soothed me, she thought of ways to help me, ways to face my fears and tackle my problems instead of moving around them or labelling them…

And then one day the big black cloud passed.

Insanity – a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.

-R.D. Laing.

In some ways, R.D. Laing (David Tennant) reminded me of N. He cared for his patients, he invested in their well-being, he believed they needed to ride the storm and open up the memories, facing them head on and doing it together, not alone.

David Tenant is outstanding as Laing. He is, quite frankly, an enigmatic, sometimes frustrating but on the whole, in my opinion, an awesome person in his field of work and the workings of the human mind.

The film pulls no punches, and there are some intense and unnerving scenes, but without these moments I don’t believe we’d see a true representation of the vast array and severity of mental health. I’ve never ‘heard voices’ or had ‘visions’ of any kind, but through careful writing, action and impeccable acting, I was actually able to gain a glimpse into their minds. I could see their pain, their memories and their cloud on its journey across their sky.

Sydney’s (Michael Gambon) story was heartbreaking, the flashbacks were hard to watch and I just wanted to be there for him. Jim (Gabriel Bryne), who evolved throughout the film from a calm, kind and soothing character to a deeply disturbed and menacing force (resulting in some dark scenes), has a fate worse than death…

Angie Wood (Elisabeth Moss) plays Laing’s wife, and she too evolves, but her journey is very different and her only want and need is for Laing to put her and their child first, not his patients. She glows during the early scenes and then she begins to fade and falter, her own mental health affected by her personal situation with Laing, as well as the increasing hostility from Jim.

You probably know I cry a lot and this film was no exception. The scene between Laing and his terminally ill daughter ripped my heart out of my chest and stomped on it, and when Laing meets a young girl sectioned in a padded cell I also shed a tear or two. These moments of brilliance, Laing’s deep understanding of the human condition and his ability to reach in and soothe, listen and be open and honest, offers such a beautiful and fragile insight into his character.

I have to admit that although I felt for Angie and the safety of both her and their child, I couldn’t help but favour and champion Laing as one of the few medical professionals attempting to do something that has more positive and beneficial results than medication, E.C.T or locking somebody away for good. As Laing quite rightly says, ‘Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through…’.

Mad to Be Normal is at Chapter now until 25th May and tickets range from £5.10-£7.20.This film is beyond words, offering a gritty reality of a time when someone was doing something radical yet inspirational, and to be honest…

I think you’d be mad to miss it!

Disclosure: I received tickets in exchange for review. All opinions are 100% honest and my own.

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