I was sent an early draft of Kendall Feaver's The Almighty Sometimes in 2016 and immediately knew I wanted to direct it, not just because it tackles one of the most pressing social issues of our time - children's mental health - but also because of Kendall's strong voice as she explores the fragile relationship of a mother and her teenage daughter on the cusp of adulthood. Renee and Anna are strong women with a biting wit, as they negotiate and re-evaluate their relationship, their love and at times loathing for each other is real and visceral. Their dilemmas are universal: Renee questioning if she has done her best for her child and whether the choices she made were in her best interests; and Anna trying to take control of her own life and figure out who she really is.
The fact that Anna is receiving medical treatment for a mental health problem that manifested itself in early childhood adds a potent dimension to their relationship and to the play. The more I have delved into the world of the play and researched mental health, the more I have come to understand how large and complex a problem this is here in the UK, especially against a background of cuts to CAMHS, the adolescent health care. This support is becoming increasingly hard to come by and I feel this is exactly the right time to be doing this play.
In working on the play, we met many young people growing up with mental health issues, their families and the professionals who dedicate their lives to caring and supporting them. It was important to me to hear their voices and understand their experiences. It is clear that everyone is different and there is no single treatment suitable for all; many people’s lives are improved by medication, whilst others find help in other ways such as talking therapies. For many young people on medication, the dilemma of “what is me and what is the medication?” seems to be a recurring question. This play tells the story of a unique experience and does not seek to give answers, it is not representative of everyone’s story, but I hope that it will shine a light on families coping with mental illness, that it will encourage a conversation about how we as a society look after our young people with mental health problems.
The Almighty Sometimes plays at the Royal Exchange 9 Feb - 24 Feb in The Theatre