My Lonely Heart concentrates on the relationship between Rob (Tachia Newall) and Helen (Olivia Sweeney), whom Rob meets one night. Helen awakens Rob’s spirit, and as an aspiring poet, he begins to find words that have previously eluded him. But their relationship and dependence on each other soon begins to become destructive, and Rob’s schizophrenia begins to take hold of him.
At times, My Lonely Heart feels distinctly ethereal, the smoke, mist and sympathetic lighting effects give a dreamlike quality to the first half. Once Rob’s schizophrenia takes hold in the second half, this gives way to a harsher, metallic, grating existence with one particular sequence a vortex of howling emotions.
Rob and Helen’s relationship is sensitively handled. Newall and Sweeney have a tangible chemistry with each other, and the physical intimacy of their relationship is magically realised by Director Benji Reid. The use of simple physical motions and interactions gives a freedom and intimacy to their relationship that is breathtaking.
The staging has echoes of the graphic novel. Lighting effects cast shapes akin to the panels of a comic on the stage, yet also indicate something of the prison Rob finds himself in – or perhaps Helen finds herself trapped outside of. This imagery also extends to some sequences where imagery is projected onto, or around, the actors. This allows for some spellbinding sequences.
All of this is set to Minute Taker’s music which ticks and oozes its way through the production. From romantic to deadly, Minute Taker’s music, plus the vocal talents of Newall and Sweeney create a hypnotic atmosphere. But importantly, the music gives a voice back to Rob, and allow his poems to come alive. Some might say that Rob is a victim of schizophrenia, but the fight between him and those around him to give him some stability is painfully clear.
Success in portraying something as debilitating as schizophrenia can be subjective. Many might expect voices in the head, or irrational behaviour, and yes, there is some of this contained within. But the genius decision to transplant “the condition” to stage as a silent, always watching, character really makes the point clear. Stephen Myott-Meadows initially spends much of the first half patiently waiting for the trigger for his character to come alive. When he does, he moves with mechanical, unstoppable glee, the ‘condition’ coming alive. And as he tinkers and plays with Rob, it’s done in a creepily caring and nurturing way. Not the screaming, howling portrayal of schizophrenia you might have otherwise expected.
My Lonely Heart might be arguably one of the hardest things I’ve ever watched. It’s a big ask to watch an actor deconstruct themselves on stage – more so when you realise that this is a true story. Obviously it is a fictionalised version of this story, but it gives a voice to those who do not have one. In pursuing Rob’s dream of having his poetry published, Thornton has delivered something far more important – a lasting legacy for Rob.
I can’t really convey how important I believe this project to be, spellbinding in its execution, HOAX is not an easy watch, but it is a unique combination of artistic talent giving voice to important, and rarely discussed issues in the context of a compelling narrative. These short words cannot convey what a beautiful delight My Lonely Heart is, and it is abundantly clear that all concerned are invested in producing not only a compelling narrative, but a lasting legacy for an extraordinary man.
HOAX My Lonely Heart runs until 7 June at the Royal Exchange Studio. HOAX Psychosis Blues is available from Ziggy’s Wish with proceeds going to mental health charities.
[Read the original review here.]