Who knows what’s best for Collette, a young woman struggling with bipolar disorder? By the end of the night she’ll be dead. Even worse, Eva O’Connor and Hildegard Ryan’s new interactive play has entrusted the audience to guide her to safety, pausing at critical plot junctures to take our vote for what happens next. Surely she’s doomed.
Throughout this breakneck production, directed by Ryan for Sunday’s Child, a covert game feels at work. This could be a forum theatre production exposing myths about mental health. After all, O’Connor’s Collette is dedicatedly scattered: jobless and exiting a relationship one moment, newly medicated and re-entering a relationship the next. The superior-thinking punter could think she shouldn’t go clubbing on this particular evening. Others feel she deserves a night on the town. The room votes to send her dancing.
This turns into a surprisingly propelling thriller with a clear villain in Collette’s boyfriend Brian. He’s enjoyably pretentious in the shape of Pius McGrath, who plays a whole gallery of lotharios and broken-hearted gents. Brian, in accordance with being on the guest-list for the edgiest nightclub in Dublin, must be a recognised as a jerk.
Then there are Collette’s friends, who have her safety in mind. Jamie, resolutely played by Annette O’Shea, is a personal assistant quite involved in her boss’s affairs, and carrying out one of her own. Sive, enjoyably sarcastic in Mary O’Loan’s performance, pays her way through college with sex work. They mightn’t make the wisest decisions but clearly neither do we. The audience barely votes to report a sexually abusive bouncer.
With everyone exiled from the nightclub, and Collette and Brian’s relationship deteriorating once again, we’re on the lookout for the next sign of danger this night will bring. But we’re also transported places more intimate, flashbacks to delicate conversations and relationships falling apart. Gradually, it forms a drama not only about attitudes to mental health, but also how we judge women’s relationships with men.
That reveals a piece of interactive theatre with a subtly powerful message. The last production Sunday’s Child brought to the First Fortnight mental health festival was Overshadowed, a play shining new light on eating disorders but with an instructive plot nonetheless. This is a more complex work, and better for it. When the end of the chosen path finally comes into view, there’s no doubt of the women’s loyalty to Collette.
Like anyone, they can only make the best decision they can.
The Friday Night Effect is on until 13 January 2018 at Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin. Click here for more details.