Most stories pertaining to mental illness or psychiatric wards are mostly set in the playroom or social areas. In the film starring Jack Nicholson – One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – most of the action transpires in the playroom and more recently, in Zach Galifianakis’ It’s A Kind Of A Funny Story, the common area where patients gather is a pivotal space in the story. And for the most part, scenes that happen in old age homes in films seem to take place where guests take part in communal activity or rest area.
Space is an integral part in The Playroom as the different characters deal with their various ordeals and traumas in one space. The haphazard nature of the mentally ill characterises this playroom, from beginning to end, and the term this is a “mad house” is appropriate when describing the space before the audience at the Market Theatre. But as the story unfolds and the initial fascination with the humour associated with mental illness subsides, the characters’ personal stories begin to reveal themselves.
The narrative moves swiftly and sometimes violently, combining drama and quiet humour to pique the audience’s interest throughout. The pieces of the puzzle in the story are all in place and every actor and actress plays their roles fittingly. Every element in the story is designed in a way that keeps the audience permanently in tune with proceedings.
Mental illness is explored through its various guises, but mostly the burning question that remains is how it is treated. Another pertinent question that the play poses is how it is perceived and how it is brought about.
And finally, the play asks how mentally stable are those tasked with looking after the ill are?
Perhaps the space and the environment therein contributes to their illness instead of being a place for rehabilitation.