Donmar Warehouse, London WC2
Opened 6 April, 2010

Mark Haddon has an aversion to being pigeon-holed; however, being best-known for his 2003 novel The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time whose protagonist is a boy with an autistic spectrum disorder and now presenting a début play centring on a woman with bipolar disorder, that aversion is something he’s just going to have to live with.
Haddon sidesteps the problem that depression is much harder to make dramatically interesting by concentrating on Kay’s phases of mania, and indeed opening with a scene which shows her husband John similarly manic. Since we are told a few minutes later (but several months earlier plot-wise) that Kay loves John because he is such a safe anchor for her, we know at once that it is not just the play’s internal chronology that is mixed up but the very reliability of what we are shown. Which scenes are imagined, by whom, in what state? Is what we are shown predominantly a fantasy or delusion, or only occasionally? It is almost impossible to say, except that I’m pretty sure the Geordie Jesus is not intended to “really” exist.
Alas, it is also rather hard to care. A successful drama à clef requires an identifiable clef, an identifiable door that it opens, and a palpable sense that what awaits beyond is worth the effort. Without these factors, what remains is “it means whatever you want it to mean” noodling. But Haddon tries to suggest that there is much meaning here. The play is liberally peppered with chunks of undigested Dan Brown-style research on everything from the geography of Oslo to the decomposition process of the human body (shades of Peter Greenaway’s film A Zed And Two Noughts, a much funnier work). At one point Kay repeats an aphorism of Nietzsche’s which her philosophy-teacher husband has just told her, remarking, “Brilliant, I’m going to remember that one”... the implication being that we should do likewise. Jamie Lloyd’s thoughtful production centres on strong performances from Jodhi May and Richard Coyle as Kay and John, but as with the Donmar’s last new play Red a few months ago, I feel the production is better than the play deserves. I sometimes feel that, as a unipolar depressive, I get rather a raw deal, missing out on the manic periods in bipolarity, but not this time.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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