Joe Penhall’s play was first performed at the Royal Court in 1994 but still feels relevant as it examines how Ray, a young man with schizophrenia, struggles to find a place in society after release from a psychiatric hospital. If the voices of the title refer to ones Ray hears in his head, however, they are hardly mentioned. In their absence, we begin to wonder if “some voices” refers to the characters on stage instead, or if these characters are hallucinations. There is a moment when Ray’s brother is surprised to find that the woman Ray’s been seeing is real.
Eventually, near the end of the play, his brother asks Ray if it is the voices that make him do the things he does. “What do they say to you?” Ray asks in return. “I don’t get them,” his brother replies. Presumably, most of the audience shares the brother’s experience, but what would someone who has recently begun to experience auditory hallucinations - from whatever cause - make of this story? Ray’s voices are presented as the cause of what makes him strange, mentally ill, a danger to himself and others. In fact, Ray’s response to his brother’s question is that the voices tell him to stop things (this is not explored further and remains ambiguous), and the most threatening character in the play has not been diagnosed with any mental illness so far as we know.
In 2001, a review in the New York Times pointed out that Some Voices was written in response to the policy of “care in the community” for people with mental health issues in the UK, which led to many people being released from psychiatric institutions in the 1990s. That context is somewhat lost now, but the play still shows that violence exists in society regardless of who is diagnosed, and that it is often those who have mental health conditions who are most at risk of getting hurt. (MR)
Some Voices is on at 15.15 at theSpace on the Mile until August 27th (ODD dates only) - https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/some-voices
2001 review of Some Voices in the New York Times:
How community care works in the UK today: http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/legal-rights/community-care-and-aftercare/
Hearing the Voice is a research project investigating different experiences of hearing voices:
The Hearing Voices Network, dedicated to helping people who hear voices: http://www.hearing-voices.org/
The Hearing Voices Cafe, developed by artist Dora Garcia, is installed at the Wellcome Collection this August: https://wellcomecollection.org/hearingvoicescafe