The topic of mental health issues, and how to understand them, has gained currency in theatrical productions. Rosalind Blessed’s new play, presented in rep at the Old Red Lion alongside her searing earlier play The Delights of Dogs and the Problems of People, takes an unusual view in a form of a therapy room for the lost in mind.

As each character in turn takes the floor to speak, we hear of their problems and the coping mechanisms that imprison them within their own torture. Watching and waiting for their turn in the spotlight, repeating the same stories to find a way out or an appropriate ending. But is anybody listening?

The anxious, unable to find an acceptable excuse not engage with the world. The bulimic, and the anorexic. The depressives, one who once cut too deep, and one who didn’t cut deep enough The childless with her cheesy bugs, and the hoarder. The lost in love and stress. These are the characters on the stage.

Helen Bang and Nick Murphey
Helen Bang and Nick Murphey

Outside, an ethereal presence eventually makes itself known in a speech which crafted skilfully the well-meaning advice that those sent to help us often use to break the cycle and pull us back. It’s familiar territory if you’ve been in therapy.

With a set and costumes of whites and greys we are captured as observers within this clinical space where excuses are trotted out again and again, and the door rarely opens. Caught in their own lullabies, the inmates – you can’t call them colleagues with the insults they often spit at each other in between moments of tenderness – are prisoners of illness and addiction.

Only a dog offers any form of salvation, and an eventual pathway, for some, away from the horror of being condemned to repeat and clarify destructive behaviours over and over.

Liam Mulvey, Duncan Wilkins, Rosalind Blessed, Helen Bang
Liam Mulvey, Duncan Wilkins, Rosalind Blessed, Helen Bang

Lullabies for the Lost captures some of the realities of mental illness and the failure of professional engagement and help. Tales of the “bedspace”, the spare room, the lost child, of rats scratching, woodlice running and flies laying eggs in a rotting chicken carcass are powerful images curated to build a unsettling whole.

I found it brave, but overlong and the ending felt a little forced. I should also mention there are a number of trigger points some may find distressing in this intense and well-written drama. They are skillfully handled by the company, but be aware of them, especially if you yourself are recovering from or living with a mental illness.

Directed by Zoe Ford Burnett, Lullabies for the Lost continues at the Old Red Lion until 1 February.

Image credits Adam Trigg.

LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to see Lullabies for the Lost.

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