Theatre Review: RACHEL – The Lowry, Salford

RACHEL by Stevie Helps

Stevie Helps’ ambitious but flawed play RACHEL falls short of delivering a serious message on mental health

One of the advantages of being a theatre blogger is that I get to see a real diverse mix of theatre. Whilst I love reviewing the big musicals and plays, it’s often the smaller, edgier and more thought-provoking productions that tend to leave a lasting impression. So when I read the synopsis for Stevie Helps new play RACHEL, I was naturally intrigued.

RACHEL tells the story of a young woman suffering with borderline personality disorder. After suffering a whirlwind of abuse and trauma in her life, it finally looks like Rachel can get her life back on track when a new love interest arrives on the scene. But can Rachel escape the prison of her mind or is the abused slowly turning into the abuser?

Challenging, daring and hard-hitting, RACHEL is an unconventional play with a personality disorder of its very own. Based on Helps’ personal experiences of psychiatric hospitals, the story follows the highs and lows of Rachel’s life, as well as those around her, as she struggles to find the help she needs at home, eventually falling into a spiral of domestic and self-abuse.

But while the play attempts to offer a unique insight into the world of mental health, the over-the-top nature of the production takes away from the seriousness of the issue. Instead Helps chooses to focus on the sensationalist aspects of the story, with suicide, murder, incest, bulimia, physical abuse, mental abuse and self-harm, all playing a part in the plot. In fact, Helps tries to cram so much into the two hour production that the plot becomes frantic and muddled. By the end of the show you’re so overwhelmed by the amount of information presented to you, it’s difficult to take away the underlying message.

The play also offers no positives about the help and support people with mental health issues can receive. Whilst we undoubtedly have a long way to come with our mental health services, the play offers little hope for those suffering, opting for cheap shots over meaningful commentary.

That said, amongst all the chaos, there are some positives to take away from the production. The decision to use three actors to play Rachel is an interesting concept with Brogan Campbell, Lauren Cotter and Jennifer Hayden all delivering a solid and captivating performance.

The use of live music also works well, with Kat Rawling staying on stage throughout the production and delivering a superb musical performance.

Overall, an ambitious but flawed project that falls short of delivering a serious message on mental health.

2 out of 5 stars

RACHEL performed at The Lowry on 13 January 2018