Back in February 2018 the Royal Exchange Theatre showcased the world premiere of Kendall Feaver’s The Almighty Sometimes. It had won the Judges Award at the 2015 Bruntwood Award for Playwriting and well deservedly.
Anna is eighteen, working and lives at home with her mum, Renee. One night, after meeting him at a party, she brings home Oliver. At twenty-one he’s a few years older but they had been at the same school and he had been taught by her mum. Anna likes and trusts him with her secret. She has been seeing a psychiatrist since she was 11 and is on a combination of medication to control her mental health issues. Although her illness is never named, through the play it becomes obvious how serious her mental illness is. But as Anna is beginning to embrace adulthood, she also begins questioning her illness and medication, especially after finding some stories she had written before starting taking it. Her mum has looked after her and protected her all these years, but is concerned over the actions Anna is taking and finding it hard to give her daughter independence. On top of all this her psychiatrist advises her that she will have to transfer her to adult services and a new doctor. Anna decides to stop taking her medication and her health starts to spiral out of control.
Norah Lopez Holden gives an outstanding performance as Anna. From seemingly fairly well balanced, through to her complete mental breakdown, she is convincing and emotional to watch. On stage for the majority of the show, the role is both physically demanding and requiring intense emotions. She is beautifully counterbalanced by Julie Hesmondhalgh as her mum Renee. In another compelling performance, Renee is supportive, worried, angry, frustrated and worn down by the emotional battering she takes as her daughter deteriorates. The cast is rounded out by Mike Noble as Anna’s boyfriend Oliver and Sharon Duncan-Brewster as psychiatrist Vivienne, both of whom give strong performances.
Katy Rudd’s direction keeps the play moving but uses the changes of pace to emphasise the power of the play and its meaning.
The Almighty Sometimes is never an easy comfortable watch. It is a play that wreaks havooc with the emotions of not only its performers but the audience as well. The parent/adult child relationship is well observed and rings very true for those who have to deal with a young person with mental health issues of any sort. Mental Health is still seen by some as a taboo subject, its invisibility making it more easily ignored that those that don’t want to know. Plays like this that raise awareness can only be a good thing, and when they are as powerful, well written and well acted as here, then it needs to be seen.
The day before this review was done Manchester’s Royal Exchange announced that unless government funding was given, then they were looking at having to make some staff redundant. It would be a great loss to Manchester to lose any of the theatres here.
Reviewer: Helen Jones
Reviewed: 2nd July 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★