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Poignant But Entertaining Theatre - Zoetrope
Phil Hopkins, Travel & Arts Correspondent
Mental health is the modern elephant in the room where those who don’t suffer from it satisfy their concerns with ‘pull yourself together.’

But, as the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s latest offering, Zoetrope, illustrates, illnesses of the mind are sometimes beyond subtle, and Rebecca Manley’s specially commissioned play is funny and poignant as well as illuminating and educational.

Illuminating because the action centres around a posse of seven young people, all suffering from mental health issues, who take part in group counselling. Interestingly the actors worked closely with Manley to evolve this 90-minute production so, to a large extent, the stories are of their generation, delivered from grass roots level.

There’s Whitney, the single mum traumatised after her baby is taken into care by Social Services. What a great performance; the young actor was so natural, a dead ringer for Catherine Tate’s ‘Am I bovvered’ TV character, and totally oblivious to the audience. Top notch.

Then there was Perry the self-harmer, vulnerable Lilly who falls in with the wrong crowd and ends up committing suicide, Emily, driven to drink to overcome the trials of attending school, and, and and……we have all seen such characters in everyday life.

It is only when you watch some of TV’s fly-on-the-wall documentaries that you start to fully appreciate the type of hidden pressures that modern youth are under, and Manley’s drama zones in on them with the dexterity of an Exocet missile. Like a soap opera she concertinas years of life into an hour and ten minutes. Enthralling.

The young actors were so good and what a privilege to get to perform on the Playhouse stage with all the professional trappings of a grade one theatre; a great set, lighting and staging.

Much of the plot centres round the counselling group and the backdrop of the Leeds to Liverpool Canal in which Lilly takes her own life.

A Zoetrope was a 19th century optical toy consisting of a cylinder with a series of pictures on the inner surface that, when viewed through slits with the cylinder rotating, gave the impression of continuous motion.

To me the pictures were the kids sitting in their group counselling circle, each varying slightly but, taken collectively, identical in that they all had issues with mental health.

A worthy piece of social drama that highlights the invisible plight of hundreds of youngsters who suffer in silence, often let down by the process driven health services that purport to help them.

West Yorkshire Playhouse
Until Saturday 4th November 2017

Poignant But Entertaining Theatre - Zoetrope, 3rd November 2017, 12:50 PM