Life Goes On
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Image courtesy of Spanner In The Works Theatre Company

Imagine a scenario where someone finds they must often raise their voice to silence another, and where the other voice may arise not only from elsewhere in a room as part of an argument, but also as numerous overlapping thoughts inside the head which create a pressurising force of doubt. Where opposing forces are so dominant and loud because of mindsets which equate to the very opposite of the desire for stability and security for the soul and for loved ones.

That's part of Life Goes On, a Spanner In The Works Theatre Company production written and directed by Patricia Downey and starring Dan Leith, Louise Parker and Elaine Duncan – one of several forms of life "going on" as part of a particularly complicated experience for a forty-five-minute play. Or perhaps the play is not only descriptive of forms of life, or ways of living, but life forms, or people, and how they react to mental illness – for either one person or those closest to them, the necessary period of adjustment to situational or personality shifts simply can't be long enough, presenting the potential preference for shielding not as connection but as denial. Denial of the necessary bonds required to prosper due to fear of pressure brought about by the inevitability of change.

In confronting this theme, Life Goes On reveals itself as a challenging and finely attuned mood piece about bravery and trust in the context of mental health, mainly that of the schizophrenic, musically minded Michael (Leith). Music is what drives the play, a series of conversations punctuated by well-chosen tunes, and it also drives Michael and his girlfriend Christine (Parker), with the latter being named after a musician – Chrissie Hynde – like her unseen sisters Shania and Whitney are. But this is not a heavy-handed trait for Christine – instead, it is exquisitely, directly affecting, a way of showing how music and lyrics can be latched on to as an antidote to helplessness and loneliness. They're therapy of sorts for the audience as well, with "The Sound Of Silence" applied to highlight contradictory but truthful desires for personal space and company, and Michael & Christine's dance to Solomon Burke's "Cry To Me" from Dirty Dancing acting as a pleasurable interlude in a tension-filled but never overbearing narrative.

Perhaps most impressive is the use of "Pure Imagination" from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, a song repeatedly sung to Michael by his mother Kathleen (Duncan) from her son's childhood. It's a well-intended choice of music, being a song of initiative and encouragement. But it's also a song famously performed amidst enclosure - while the "wonders" of Wonka's world, if you can call them that, were peerlessly unique, being a recluse for so long impacted his personality in such a way that both family and the idea of family were alien to him until it was almost too late. Consider Life Goes On through this prism, and an examination of responsibility comes to the fore – at what point does help become hindrance? And once the former is perceived as the latter, especially by someone who is struggling, how hard will it be to convince them that hearts are still in the right place? What said examination brings from Kathleen, Christine and especially Michael are interactions as heated as they are invaluable, as calm as they are contemplative - which also powerfully and rewardingly guide the audience to an open and satisfying conclusion where one finds they are keen to see and hear more from such sincerely penned characters.

Simon Fallaha

Life Goes On runs at the Lyric Theatre until Saturday September 23. For more information, and tickets, click here.