Me and My Friend

Globe Theatre, 104 London St, Dunedin

27/08/2009 - 05/09/2009

Production Details

This very different play, which has been described as being funny and extremely powerful, tells the story of four individuals (Bunny, Oz, Julia and Robin), all former mental health patients, who have recently been released from a psychiatric hospital into a ‘Care in the Community’ scheme – an early-release programme for such patients. They live in two small council flats, somewhere in England, and are trying to get themselves jobs and gradually fit themselves back into society.

Bunny and Oz (two men who are both around 40 years old) conduct fantasy interviews for jobs they will never get, while the two women, Julia and Robin (in their late 20s – early 30s) try to ‘make plans’ as urged to do by the hospital.

The action switches between the everyday and the characters’ own psychoses. In a series of interactions and monologues they share with us their hopes and dreams. The four patients meet when Oz throws a party.

Oz:  Wyeth Chalmers
Bunny:  Steve McNamara
Robyn:  Kate Lindsay 
Julia:  Denise Casey

Set Construction:  Andrew Cook
Stage Manager:  John Campbell
Assistant Stage Manager:  Sarah Williamson
Lighting:  Ian Leslie
Lighting Assistant:  Sam Dent
Wardrobe:  Rachael McCann
Props:  Emily Duncan
Poster Design:  Andrew Cook
Photography:  Melanie
Publicity:  Roslyn Nijenhuis
Front of House:  Kathy Creswell-Moorcock

Doings and undoings

Review by Terry MacTavish 30th Aug 2009

This accessible black comedy handles a sensitive topic with insight, humour, and the most imaginative uses for sugar I’ve ever seen on stage.

It is easy to see why playwright Gillian Plowman’s works tend to be popular choices at drama festivals round the world.  With her strong social conscience, she chooses to focus on the problems of the homeless, the unemployed, petty criminals, the overweight, ill, blind, sexually abused, and those released from psychiatric or penitential institutions. Given any such handicap, how do you cope with life?

Me and My Friend is structured around two odd couples, recently released from psychiatric hospitals into what is optimistically described as community care. These two pairs of ex-patients inhabit depressingly sparse flats in the same building, while they strive to rebuild their lives.

In Act 1, two men put on red bowties to practise interviews for jobs we realise they will never get. In Act 2, two women prepare for an afternoon nap, and try to make plans as the hospital staff advised – but their dream trip to France will similarly never eventuate.

The connections to Beckett are clear. The conversations are often delightful, reflecting the absurdisms of the society they hope to re-enter. Their efforts to behave as ‘normal’ people do are both touching and funny.

The men’s determination to groom themselves results in hair lacquer being used as mouth freshener, while the women save coins in individual empty drink cans, which necessitates the buying of new cans to empty. 

Gradually we learn their back stories: one man, Oz, was a postman who concealed letters he couldn’t deliver; Bunny was a print manager whose obsessive workaholism cost him his marriage. Of the women, Robyn has a ghastly secret that destroyed her marriage, while Julia’s disturbed attitude to sex, probably the result of abuse, has left her fearful of any touch.

It is Oz who is bold enough to make contact, delivering a parcel to the flat upstairs, and eventually inviting the women to a party for which he will bake tarts. The scene is thus set for the third act, which will bring the four together. (And spill a lot of sugar.) Though in many ways it seems possible to set up two matches made in heaven, we sense it is bound to end in disaster. Hell is still other people.

Director Nigel Ensor has ensured a high level of commitment from his cast, though sometimes the pace seems a little swift for such confused individuals. Wyeth Chalmers as Oz, the one who seems most likely to rejoin the real world, drives the plot with energy and conviction, yet displays compassion for his more helpless room-mate. As Bunny, Steve McNamara succeeds in creating an impression of great fragility and vulnerability. Like Chalmers, he is touching in his attempts to maintain his dignity – even when discussing circumcision.

Julia is the more confident of the women, at least until she has to let her guard down in sleep, and Denise Casey gives her an appealing bossiness as well as an attractive Irish accent. Kate Lindsay, as Robyn, has a harder task to make credible the more melodramatic history of her character, but is ultimately convincing. The two, aided by clever lighting, handle the potentially awkward re-enactment of their past lives with aplomb.

The last play I saw [My First Time] seemed to imply that getting laid was the answer to all life’s questions.  A condom was even placed enticingly on each theatre seat.  In Me and My Friend, the case is far more compellingly made that it is sex that mucks it all up. In their flatmate pairings, these four misfits are offered safety and even comfort.  It is their endeavours to form sexual connections that have been, and will continue to be, their undoing. 

This Globe production gives us a welcome opportunity to explore some of the complexities of living today, as we watch their struggles from a safe distance, sometimes smug, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes appalled.

Finally, the existential angst brought on by their sudden freedom in a terrifying world is stunningly expressed in the poster design by Andy Cook: a striking reworking of Munch’s The Scream, composed of not one, but four anguished faces.
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Treatment of mentally ill dramatised

Review by Barbara Frame 30th Aug 2009

Gillian Plowman’s Me and My Friend is undeniably a comedy, but it’s as bleak as they come. The first act begins with two men distractedly role-playing an interview for a job which we know instantly that Bunny, the applicant, hasn’t the faintest chance of getting. Former psychiatric patients, they are trying to fit themselves back into the community, but it’s hard.

In a nearby flat Julia and Robin, similarly situated, seem more closely in touch with normality, at least until we know more about them and come to understand that their dream of a trip to France is no more realistic than the men’s employment ambitions. One day Oz, who’s good at cooking, decides to throw a party.

Me and My Friend takes us into the lives of those who, while not considered ill enough to be hospitalised, cannot quite function in ways that the rest of us take for granted. It shows us, painfully but with determined humour, the strains that can lead to breakdown, and invites us to reflect on society’s treatment of and attitudes to the mentally ill.

The Globe’s production, ably directed by Nigel Ensor, won the approval of Thursday night’s small (about 20 people) but very appreciative audience.

Wyeth Chalmers is funny and confident as Oz, the ex-postman who would just love his job back, or a girlfriend, or both. Steve McNamara conveys Bunny’s tormented anxiety, Kate Lindsay is convincing as the migraine-prone Robin, whose story is the most heartbreaking of all, and Denise Casey is assertive but fragile as Julia, the one-time steel worker who cannot bear to be touched.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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