Mary Barnes by David Edgar

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BBC Radio 7, 7 November 2009
This 1979 work by David Edgar chronicles the six-year journey through madness of Mary Barnes. Set in 1960s London and based on the personal accounts of Barnes (Patti Love) and therapist Joseph Berke (David Morrissey), the work follows the middle-aged former nurse through her years as a resident of Kingsley Hall, a controversial residence/therapy facility headed by the even more controversial Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing (known as Ronnie in this play) (John Hannah). Though the Kingsley Hall experiment has been proclaimed as a turning point in the treatment of schizophrenia, Edgar keeps his focus directly on Barnes, reducing the fellow residents to complementary but underdeveloped supporting players.

The remainder of the cast, under Hilary Norrish`s direction, more than adequately filled in the gaps. There was an energetic lightness to this production that better served to balance the careening machinations of the central character. As Mary, Love unleashed a frightening visage of a human being reduced to raging, infantile beast. Though Edgar has thrown too much of the play her way, Norrish masterfully guided listeners through the essence of Barnes' painfully slow mental and sociological journey to sanity and her eventual emergence as a writer and artist. Giving powerful support was Morrissey as Mary's therapist, Joe (i.e., Berke) - a hippy-era idealist committed to deal with Mary's madness no matter where it led.

As two other therapists, Hannah (the Laing figure) and Nicholas le Prevost (Dougie) were excellent as more or less good-natured, sometimes bickering commentators on the central relationship of Mary and Joe. Offering colourful and original portrayals of Kingsley Hall residents were David Collings and Tessa Worsley amongst others.

Special mention should also go to the uncredited sound design, featuring excellent use of 1960s pop music, not only to segue scenes but also to underscore the emotional intensity of the onstage action.