Living with the Lights on at Tobacco Factory Theatre

Arriving at The Tobacco Factory Theatre last night, a well-spoken, middle-aged man offered me a flier, I recognised him at once, it was Mark Lockyer, who wrote and was about to perform the piece I was going to see. On entering the theatre, he virtually escorted my friend and I to our seats, checking we were happy with the positioning and moving us to a better spot. We had, it appeared, missed the tea and biscuits he had made for the initial members of the audience, but we were nevertheless made to feel very welcome, as if we were popping round to Mark’s for an evening in.

The stage was reasonably sparse; a step-ladder, a couple of tables (one laid with the aforementioned refreshment facilities, on the other a stereo), a clothes rail and a pile of stagecraft detritus. Mark had already broken down that theatrical fourth wall, there was to be no performance tonight, it was a chat between old friends, it was going to be a revelation of truth, no need for scenery or special effects. The lights were on and there was nowhere to hide.

Mark began with Robbie Williams, the lyrics from Karma Killer ‘You’re so full of sin, Even the devil rates you, I hope you choke, On your Bacardi and Coke’ virtually spat at the audience. So, it seemed that this was not going to be just a night with old friends after all, this was going far deeper, tonight Mark was about to introduce us to his Devil, the ‘MD’, Manic Depression.

We joined him on a haunting (and yet sometimes funny) journey through his depression, from the breakdown of his relationship with his long-term girlfriend, losing it on stage at the RSC and ultimately setting fire to his girlfriend’s flat. For me however it was the asides, the lines delivered without force that affected me the most; someone’s cutting comment that he smelt and needed to wash; the nonchalant gathering of Holy Water around his bed; the quick retelling of a couple of hours in A&E where, after a suicide attempt, his stomach was pumped with charcoal and then apologetically he was sent on his way due to a lack of beds and finally the throwaway line about his friend in the secure hospital who hanged himself.

Mark is, in its most literal sense, living proof that you can ‘get well’, that with the right help you can fight free of your Devil, but as I awoke this morning to the news that in the UK a quarter of girls and nearly one in 10 boys show signs of depression at the age of 14, there is much more work to be done. Whether that be earlier intervention, better medication, more research into what works, or just a better all-round understanding, a good first step would be to listen to Mark, to see what the very depths of depression look like and to hear how we can support each other. Let’s keep the lights on.

Mark is at the Tobacco Factory Theatre until Thursday 22nd September 2017.


Image by Simon Annand, with thanks

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