The statistics surrounding mental health are alarming. 1 in 4 people will experience problems, and 90% of those have faced some form of stigma – whether from family, friends, or colleagues. SpeakUp Theatre's Cognitions is a poignant show, centred on bipolar disorder and its impact on a mother-daughter relationship.
The story is built around Joanna and her daughter Niamh, and explores how the cloud of Joanna’s bipolar disorder always hangs low and heavy on their relationship. We share the experiences of the duo in the days leading up to Niamh’s departure for university. Joanna is not very well, and Niamh’s imminent departure – and the change it will bring to their lives – puts additional pressure on both.
Joanna is completely taken up with the impulses in her own mind, portrayed very creatively by three women who surround her, tugging, twitching and moaning along with her emotions. Joanna’s mental absence, in turn, reflects on the anxiety and disturbance that Niamh faces, in turn revealing their heavily co-dependent relationship.
The writing is very good. I appreciate the fact that the storyline comes to a kind of eventual conclusion, which isn’t shown but is implied. Isabelle Kabban delivers a stunning performance as Niamh (drawing from her own experiences of her relationship with her mother, who has bipolar disorder); she is in equal measure strong and vulnerable, both calm and anxious.
A minor flaw, I feel, was the dance sequence in the middle of the show, which took a good five minutes to mark a period of frenzy in Joanna’s mind. It felt too long and formulaic, and you knew it was going to stop as soon as Niamh came back into the room.
But discounting some predictable elements, this is a powerful play, which really brings the struggles of a patient as well as their loved ones to life. Those who have cared for someone with a mental health problem will identify heavily with Niamh's situation, and for everyone, this is an important show to catch at the Fringe this year.