It’s difficult to create good theatre about mental health problems, not least because every story is different; yet in Vent, presented briefly in Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen and Edinburgh last week, the Scottish Youth Theatre’s National Ensemble of young adults has created a two-hour devised piece of exceptional range and power, for a cast of 17.
Vent, Tron Theatre, Glasgow ****
Co-ordinated by Tortoise in a Nutshell director Ross MacKay, with Alex Bird and Arran Howie, Vent succeeds in presenting half-a-dozen different faces and stories of mental distress while retaining a strong dramatic momentum, featuring some well-made movement sequences by Emma Jayne Park, and suggesting a powerful critique of a world of 21st- century healthcare dominated by commercial providers offering “quick fixes” for profound problems.
So we meet, among others, the young mother torn apart by feelings of hate towards her baby, the young woman driven to suicide by a combination of family expectations and mounting debt, the young man devastated by the bullying of his so-called “best friend”; and as we visit and revisit each story, we also meet the staff at Vent, the strange healthcare facility where they all undertake locked-room encounters with robots which supposedly force them to confront their deepest problems.
As Phil the manager knows only too well, though, the Vent treatment is not infallible; and we’re left with a vivid sense of a society where high stress and quiet desperation have become a new normal, and where what’s missing is not so much the latest high-tech treatment as the ordinary human kindness of George the janitor, finally arriving to remind Phil that if he doesn’t go now, he’ll miss his last bus.