Calling (Old Red Lion Theatre) is a promising debut full length play by Debora Espect, a three hander set in a modern day mental hospital. It’s a pleasingly simple affair with one patient, Rebecca, a motor mouthed ‘chav’, firm friends with the more obviously deluded David who thought his mother was Satan and tried to kill her, and the geeky introverted Scott, mourning for a ‘girlfriend’ he never meet. The dialogue is in the common parlance; no high rhetoric or verbal flourishes here (subjects such as mental illness can often be an excuse for moralising, over emotionalism and specifying). Here we get the story of the interaction between the three characters, David’s jealousy, Scott’s twisted intentions and Rebecca's general good nature and lonely life outside of the institution. The three actors are good, but Matt Prendergast as Scott, the obsessive geek, clearly shows great talent, his nervous ticks and initial disinterest was slightly reminiscent of John Simm’s character in Elling (another play on mental illness, though that one is quite superior). In criticism I have to say that very little of in the play brings much to the subject of mental illness, and it is quite predictable (though often funny). Despite this I don’t dislike the piece, it shows an ear for ordinary language and an interest in a subject that is worth looking at, plus it is entertaining in a genial kind of way. The set and production is almost as simple as the premise, Alison Goldsmith using minimal furniture to create communal areas and patients’ bedrooms, and the white walled background of the small pub theatre is fittingly stark for an institution.
This is mostly a good debut effort, in a decent production with a promising cast. What will stick in my mind though is David’s (Lawrence Tate) consumption of many cheese puffs and several new potatoes during the performance, which must take quite an effort night after night.