Gary Thomas reviews the Knitting Circle, written by Julie McNamara. Performed at the Cochrane Theatre, London, 22 September 2011
Julie McNamara's heart wrenching, funny and thought-provoking 90 minutes tells the story of the closure of the mental asylums under the Thatcher years.
The Knitting Circle presents a bitter sweet take on the closure of one of these asylums, entirely pulled together from real-life stories of 'patients' / 'service users' / 'mental health consumers' from the point of view of Jackee, a young nursing assistant who eventually befriends the patients, only to see them forced into the outside world due to the original 'care in the community' programmes.
As she is charged with helping patients to cope with the outside world, and as the story unfolds in a series of scenes where the conflict and tensions come to a head, more powerful stories are revealed. We realise that just maybe, the staff can be just as ‘institutionalised’ as the patients.
Maroula's story stood out for me. Her character didn't speak, but through interaction with Jackee was able to talk about the time she had to give her baby up. She never saw or held her baby, but throughout the play, we see Maroula able to communicate her feelings more and more, until towards the end she is unable to voice anything.
The sharp, funny script aptly directed by Paulette Randall was showcased at Decibel before moving to the Cochrane Theatre, London for the full show.
The play certainly brought out a range of emotions in me, and if you have any experience of what it’s like being a ‘patient’ within the mental health system, it’ll probably do the same for you - but in a good way.