Altered Minds, Altered Realities is a one-act, one-man play in which the playwright and actor, Augustus Stephens, depicts six characters in turn in a series of monologues, poems and songs. Each named character is living with a different serious mental illness. Augustus himself has been
diagnosed at different times with several of these conditions and he gives his own name, Gus, to the fourth character to appear, who represents his most definitive diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. As Gus he tells a bizarre story about a battle to eat a kebab, which I later discovered was
based on a true incident. He then loses his clothes, picks up a guitar and sings a poignant song about a cricket before crawling under bedclothes and reappearing as depressed Doug.
Although there are fairly subtle references to cuts in benefits and services, and to unsuitable support - Doug is convinced that a letter on his doormat is a sanction from the DWP, and anxious Aled panics about the idea of going to a suggested "anxiety support group" - the audience is
invited not to feel pity for the various characters but to enter into their lives and struggles.
Besides Gus, Aled and Doug we meet schizophrenic Chris, who hears voices and discusses the side effects of his medication in some scatological detail; Stanley, with borderline personality disorder, and Larry, with bipolar disorder. Fast-talking Larry appears in the manic phase of his
illness only (perhaps to avoid confusion with Doug, although the characterisation is very different). He is seen in the guise of a private detective, experiencing racing, exaggerated thoughts: "I'm over 50 - Brad Pitt is my age - we could be twins!"
This performance deserves a far larger audience than the dozen or so who saw it with me on a late August weekday. That small audience was, however, deeply engaged and responded enthusiastically when invited to vote for the character that had most intrigued them. For me, it was an almost impossible decision; I finally chose bipolar Larry, who had made me smile. (CS)
Altered Minds, Altered Realities was performed at the Camden People's Theatre in Hampstead Road, London, from August 22-27 2016 as part of the Camden Fringe Festival.
Further performances: http://www.augustusemperors.com/altered-minds-altered-realities
Augustus Stephens' home page: http://www.augustusemperors.com/
MIND (the mental health charity): types of mental illness: http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/
SANE, raising public awareness, offering emotional support and campaigning for the rights of those with mental health difficulties: http://www.sane.org.uk/home
TED talk (Ruby Wax): What's so funny about mental illness?: https://www.ted.com/talks/ruby_wax_what_s_so_funny_about_mental_illness
Can you treat anxiety with YouTube videos? Anna Codrea-Rado in The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/aug/30/treat-anxiety-youtube-videos-mental-health