In our latest Talking Heads feature, reporter Amy Ortiz reviews Electrolyte, a piece of gig theatre making its return to Scotland as part of a two-month tour supported by the Mental Health Foundation. Please be aware that this review contains spoilers.
A crowd brimming with expectation awaited the multi-award winning production, Electrolyte, on its opening night in Glasgow’s Tron Theatre. The wait was not long, however, as this dynamic piece of gig theatre swiftly pulls the audience out of the dark and drops them into the uplifting highs and gut-wrenching lows of it’s leading character, a young artist named Jessie.
Written by James Meteyard and complemented by music and lyrics from composer Maimuna Memon, Electrolyte creates a sensitively layered narrative that explores the effects of grief on Jessie’s deteriorating mental health, as well as highlighting community and friendship as key players in her recovery. No wonder then, the format is in that of a tightly knit, six-piece band of friends brought to life by the multi-instrumental actors onstage who inject personality, authenticity and an infectious energy into their performances.
As the protagonist, played by Olivia Sweeney, shifts from one environment to the other, from unbearable, strobing nightclubs to moments of blue-tinged introspection, from light-hearted sing-alongs to tense confrontations, it is her spoken word narration that guides the audience throughout it all and seamlessly incorporates storytelling into the rhythm of the music.
For a production that juggles this spoken word poetry, live music, drama and a sprinkle of audience participation, Electrolyte has nothing much to hide behind but microphones and electrical wiring. Yet, by stripping back to it’s bare essentials, the audience is given room to feel the full impact of Jessie’s fluctuating emotions, moods and an undeniable sense of vulnerability that describe a distressed mental landscape so well. In a distinctly memorable moment, Jessie pauses and studies stunned, squinting faces as the white stage lights swing from cast to crowd. Roles are reversed as suddenly the audience are in the spotlight, made to feel as exposed and vulnerable as the protagonist.
It is in this way that Electrolyte crafts a collective experience and instils an empathetic understanding so important in the conversation around mental wellbeing, as audiences will undoubtedly be touched whether they have shared a similar experience or not. Viewers are reminded that feelings are universal, everyone is part of the discussion, and that both individually and collectively the time to observe from a distance, is over.
What Electrolyte achieves is more than a refreshing and contemporary perspective into mental health, but a deeply humanising journey through what is eventually revealed to be Jessie’s schizophrenia, a condition so typically restricted to the fringes of society or exploited for dramatic effect in media. Jessie proves she is more than her psychosis, and is given a liberating before and after to her story that is unfortunately rarely told, but thankfully handled here with care and tact.
Amy Ortiz is a Belfast born design student living in Glasgow and self-described weirdo. She strives to involve herself in local creative goings-on, especially when they combine arts with meaningful social impact.
The Talking Heads project, in partnership with See Me, brings together a team of volunteer journalists to produce written articles and other creative responses to festival events. Click here to find out more.