The Lights On
Young Vic Theatre December 2016
In 1995 actor Mark Lockyer had a mental and emotional breakdown while playing Mercutio with the RSC, beginning a downward spiral that included alcoholism, homelessness and spells in both prisons and mental hospitals before belatedly being diagnosed as bipolar.
Under continuing treatment for the ailment, he is now able to function, and has written this solo show explaining what it all felt like from the inside.
The 80-minute monologue is at its best when Lockyer presents verifiable fact, intensified internal experience and pure fantasy or hallucination as equivalent and indistinguishable, helping us see how madness blended them together.
A clear and presumably accurate memory of a panic attack onstage in Stratford is followed by an encounter with the Devil in the form of a California surfer dude.
Then, evidently over a period of years or even decades but experienced in a rush and jumble, we hear of leaving one girlfriend for another, losing both and then exploiting a third, attempting suicide, attempting arson, getting and losing acting jobs, running off to Greece with no money, repeatedly encountering the demonic surfer, and spending various stretches in prisons, hospitals and prison hospitals.
Some of this may be objectively true, and at his best Lockyer makes us understand that the rest is subjectively true.
But the challenge for any kind of confessional autobiography is for the person who lived it to raise it somehow from case study to art, to give the audience something more than gossip to respond to.
And Lockyer is only partially successful at this, sometimes evocatively capturing and communicating the essence of the experience, but just as often leaving the audience disconnected and perhaps even titillated observers of someone else's private life.
Even worse, he allows for the suspicion that the ticket-buyers have been lured into subsidising what amounts to Lockyer's ongoing self-therapy sessions.
Curiously, although Lockyer eventually names his problem as bipolarity, very little of what came before seemed to point that way, and almost as curiously (perhaps anticipating a sequel) he ends the story with himself at the bottom of the arc, skimming rapidly over the potentially fascinating and dramatic story of treatment and recovery.
Director Ramin Gray, who Lockyer has credited with helping shape the monologue, has let his actor down in some very basic directorial ways.
Although Lockyer does create and sustain the persona of a man with a great if horrible story to tell, he repeatedly stumbles over such shouldn't-happen issues as becoming inaudible when lowering his voice dramatically or not distinguishing between speakers and voices when re-enacting conversations.
There is the material here for a harrowing portrait of madness as experienced by the temporarily mad, and Mark Lockyer is an actor with unquestionable talent, presence and personal charm.
But Living With The Lights On is best appreciated – and would best be acknowledged by its creator – as a work in progress, with considerable accomplishment so far but considerable reshaping yet to be done.
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Review - Living With The Lights On - Young Vic Theatre 2016