Have you ever been welcomed into and auditorium with cushions and soft toys tucked here and there into the seats, bean bags in the front row, and actively encouraged by the ushers to grab hold of any you may like and hold it throughout (or discreetly displace it to a nearby seat if that’s not for you)? No? Well, this was definitely a first for me too – and a welcome one. There I sat, ready to enjoy the show, a small koala bear on my lap, and a lion peering over the seat in front of me. Quite the cosy setting I must say.
This is exactly the sort of atmosphere that the stage set reflects: baby toys, blankets, Pilates balls and a range of other items strewn across the stage (maybe messy is a more accurate term than cosy at this point), Skye Loneragan, playing a heavily sleep-deprived mum, welcomes us into the land of ‘The Lounge Room’. Inspired by her own experience with childbirth and the sleep deprivation that came with it, and family members wrestling with mental health, Loneragan pieces together a narrative that explores topics that we may find hard to talk about – or rather that society sometimes leads us to believe are shameful to talk about, and it is incredibly refreshing to see these themes so openly addressed on stage.
Setting up a baby monitor at the front of the stage in the first few minutes of the show, the dynamic of the show quickly becomes apparent, as Loneragan is repeatedly interrupted by the monitor as she tries to piece her story together. ‘Once Upon a Time’ she starts but doesn’t get very far in constructing a linear narrative. And, I might add, it is not the point. Whilst I did struggle to keep up with what was being narrated at times, and it was a welcome moment when Loneragan snaps out of what she is saying, recognising and apologising about how hard this must be to follow, her fractured story does seem to be what most accurately reflects months of not sleeping for more than a couple of hours at a time, and in this sense is incredibly effective at giving the audience a sense of what she is going through. Loneragan’s performance is mesmerising and uplifting throughout, even as she tackles uneasy themes.
Repeatedly going back to the Pilates ball in an attempt to ‘stay on the ball’ when thoughts get too jumbled and situations out of our control, Loneragan ultimately humbly and gently makes us realise that there are things and situations that we cannot balance out, and that’s ok. As she destigmatises talking about one’s troubles or any mental health issues ourselves or our ‘loved ones in pain’, LOIP, as she calls them, may be experiencing, she creates a safe space in which performance becomes an ally to creating an open discussion. At the end of the performance, everyone is welcome to stay on for a 15-minute informal chat that she and her team have called the ‘Response Sanctuary’, a heart-warming exchange where anyone can share their thoughts on the show and ask questions.
Reviewer: Louise Balaguer
Reviewed: 22nd May 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★