Depression, mental illness, suicide. We see the words every day and, fortunately, for most of us that’s as close as we get to understanding them. But as more and more people are becoming diagnosed with mental illnesses, and the consumption of drugs like citalopram are steadily on the rise, TaBoo Productions’ Eight Pounds Sixty is a timely reminder of what it can be like to suffer with depression and have suicidal thoughts. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 in this country; it’s thought to affect men more than women because women find it easier to talk, although other studies suggest that women are more successful (if that’s the right word) at committing suicide than men – men have more failed suicide attempts. Such statistics are gruesome.
This short play introduces us to two characters, 23-year-old Annie, doing well, with her own two-bedroomed flat in the best part of Buckinghamshire; and 17-year-old Rosie, a garrulous, excitable young lady with the world at her feet, or so you’d think. But Annie’s messy floordrobe is a symptom of her messed up mind, and as for Rosie – well we’ll come to her in a short while. Annie presents well. She’s happy at work (relatively – we all have idiot colleagues from time to time, but her recollections of their coffee orders are very amusing); she’s having counselling but she likes her counsellor, and citalopram gets her through the day – the Eight Pounds Sixty of the title, by the way, is the cost of a prescription. She bemoans the idiotic questions that she is required to answer for the well-meaning but overstretched NHS. But then there was the day she had to ring 111, and we hear the conversation between her and switchboard, and it’s clear she’s in trouble.
Naomi Ell gives a stunning solo performance, winning us over instantly with her quirky observations about her daily routines, the nicely impertinent asides about her colleagues, and her chatty reflections on her medical treatment. So it comes as a tremendous shock when the painful truth of Annie’s condition can no longer be hidden, and the tears begin to fall – not only from Ms Ell’s eyes but from the majority of the audience.
She deftly changes into a summer dress to become Rosie, cheekily exchanging niceties with a chap in the front row; 17 years old, but still attached to her pets. And just when you think all’s well, she opens a piece of paper simply entitled Mum and Dad, and she reads out loud what she has written. And that’s the starting point for fresh tears, a liberally opened packet of paracetamol, and the inevitable result of too much teenage pressure.
It’s an incredibly moving piece, performed as an absolute tour de force. If you’ve been affected by thoughts of suicide, either by yourself or loved ones, you may want to think twice about seeing this play because it pulls no punches. It’s so beautifully done, but with some truly hard moments. At just over 20 minutes, this must be one of the shortest plays around, but quality beats quantity and its impact surely outweighs the time spent watching it. Unforgettable.