Educating audiences about mental health

Fiona Geddes
Fiona Geddes

There was no doubting the sincerity and zeal of the performance at the Swallow Theatre last Saturday.

The author and solo performer, Fiona Geddes, had a tale to tell that for many years had been impossible to give voice to on a public stage.

Her character Kirsty had the fortune - she would not call it a misfortune - to be born to a mother with schizophrenia.

There is a conspiracy of silence about mental illness, as there once was about physical illness. Ignorance breeds shame, and Geddes set out to annihilate both with a piece of theatre that attempts to educate her audiences about the illness and its social effects in equal measure.

She does this with an almost unbroken flow of snippets of conversations, interviews, phone-calls and memories.

They begin with Kirsty’s childhood in Forres and end in ‘real’ present time as her mother phones her while she is actually on stage in the Swallow.

Along the way we meet the three doctors who ‘treated’ her mother. Current confusion about this disease is made only too plain when these three – her GP and two specialist consultants - each proffer different advice.

We meet too the boy-friend, also a sufferer from mental illness, who adds the quandary of marrying and having children at double risk.

Mother, nevertheless, is always the central figure and Geddes is most convincing when remembering the things she said and did.

Readers and theatre-goers are not unacquainted with the dissection of fraught mother/daughter relationships but, by calling her play Normal/Madness, Geddes presents us with the situation of the daughter who struggles to distinguish between her mother and the illness that so corrupts her life.

In a way, the audience have a similar struggle, to understand mental illness as well as they can and at the same time to empathise with the author’s family problem. The switching between characters, places and years made for challenging watching which succeeded by virtue of Geddes’ unquestioned energy and devotion to her cause.

On Saturday (tomorrow), you can catch ‘An Evening with Sunny Ormonde’ at The Swallow Theatre from 7.30pm.

Sunny has been playing Lillian Bellamy in BBC Radio4’s The Archers for the past 12 years. Sunny will fill you in on all the behind the scenes stories about the world’s longest running soap opera - an evening of anecdotesn and banter. Tickets £10. Call 01988 850368.