Sunday, October 2

Find Me – Hope Street Theatre

Based on the true story of Verity Taylor, a young woman with undiagnosed autism, and the family attempting to understand and support her in a system that could not cope with her challenging behaviour, one could be forgiven for thinking this powerful play by Olwen Wymark is a modern commentary on a system in crisis, failing those who need it most. Not the case, I’m afraid. Written in 1976, Find Me depicts a family struggling to cope as they are failed and misunderstood by educators, medical staff, Social Services and the Crown Prosecution Service, the result being the conviction of a 20-year-old woman, institutionalized since the age of 11 years and 5 months, and admitted to a Psychiatric unit at Broadmoor, unable to be released without the express agreement of the Home Secretary. Her crime? Setting fire to a chair and causing £6 worth of damage.

Keyhole Theatre’s production uses an ensemble cast to tell this powerful and moving story. After a shaky and nervous start, we meet Verity and her family, trying to make sense of their daughter’s disruptive and challenging behaviour which ranges from humorously misunderstanding ‘normal’ socially expected cues and responses to creating absolute chaos in the most anodyne of situations.

Nadege Josa as the young Verity brought a playful, intelligent, mischievousness to the role whilst Sophie Gilroy as the older, captured her outbursts of confusion, delight, rebellion and despair with thoughtful detail gaining our empathy and warmth.

Adam Byrne was strong as Edward, Verity’s father, creating a calm, reassuring presence, a loving and caring parent desperate to protect and support his child but struggling to understand either the behaviour or the system of response to it. At the centre of this piece is the complex relationship between Verity’s parents Edward and Jean; devoted and loving, confused and embarrassed, conflicted and united, battling to do the best they can for their daughter. But the key connection and rapport needed between this couple was not present, and this did have a negative effect for me. Amanda Lancaster’s Jean confused me. Presented as resentful and impatient, dismissive and detached, I could not warm to her characterization. In Jean’s landmark monologue where she declares she does not know if she loves her own child, blames herself for some unknown factor that may have occurred during pregnancy to cause Verity’s difficulties, bears her soul, doubts herself, pleads for someone to understand, to help. This should have gripped the audience in its tragic and heartfelt honesty, Wymark’s writing certainly provides the material, but it felt under rehearsed and cold in performance.

Set in a ‘black box’ style with stark staging and basic props and costume, this production had all the potential to create a powerful and moving piece of theatre, but it did not. There is nothing wrong with a stark black box and a minimalist approach – done well, with attention to detail, this is the type of drama I love but poor lighting and sound did not enhance the presentation. Confusing costume choices, especially Jean’s inexplicable power dressing, contradicted the content.

The ensemble worked with energy, good pace and commitment with notable performances from PJ Murray as Verity’s brother Mark and Nicola Morrison in multi-roles, but I felt directional opportunities were missing and several scenes lacked the kind of structure, style and imagination that this type of theatre demands to be truly engaging and powerful in the way the playwright intended.

Reviewer: Lou Kershaw  

Reviewed: 9 June 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★