John Malkovich directs this heartbreaking story of addiction and insecurity that is beautifully presented from beginning to end.
Zach Helm’s heartbreaking play looks at the very real struggles of mental illness and addiction that proves difficult to watch but provides a unflinching insight in what it means to live with mental illness for those suffering and those who try and reach out and help.
The play opens with Jack receiving great reviews for his book and on the verge of signing a multi-million dollar deal with a leading publisher, but is distracted by his wife Annie’s struggles with insecurity and addiction that even at the early stages of the production that threaten to tear them apart. Throughout the audience are asking – can she really deal with the fame and fortune that will come with his success?
John Malkovich’s production is sharp, slick and stylish – with every scene moving with lightning speed that keeps the audience on their toes from beginning to end. Malkovich manages to challenge the audience, ensuring that while it is difficult to watch (the climax scenes in particular are utterly graphic and disturbing) it is also compelling with its frankness.
But the production also exposes a few flaws with Helm’s play, which can re-emphasise certain points too much that slow down the energy of the production a tad, as seen in the scene in which Annie confronts Jack about the missing bulk of drugs that she had bought and told him to hide – the moment is effective but just goes on for slightly too long that it begins to lose its sense of meaning.
There is also occasional lack in focus in the script itself, which can distract from the main points of the story and perhaps could have been edited better to get to the purpose quicker and sharper.
However, this is a production that has some outstanding performances. Freya Mavor as Annie – a struggling drug addict whose insecurities impact on the lives of others who surround her – is absolutely phenomenal in terms of her energy and presence, particularly during the home cleaning and the disastrous dinner party scenes in which she draws out all of her emotions, switching moods constantly is extremely high quality acting.
There is great support from Harry Lloyd as Annie’s husband Jack, who ultimately doesn’t know how to handle his wife’s spiralling out of control behaviour. His increasing frustration and despair is beautifully played as his confrontation scene with Annie after the dinner party reveals an explosion of emotion that is hard to listen to as it is to watch.
The other cast member’s characters are perhaps less well formed, but they still provide great support in gaining insight into the relationship between Annie and Jack.
Visually, the production is stunning. Pierre-Francois Limbosch’s designs are edgy and sophisticated, yet at the same time simple so as not to take away from the heart of the story. Meanwhile Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting softens and sharpens effectively to help to not only showcase the state of Annie’s mind but also reflect the chaos and insecurities of all of the characters.
There is no denying that this is a difficult play to watch, but Malkovich’s production makes it an essential and vivid watch. It is honest and compelling from beginning to end, that it is hard not to be swept away by the characters and their struggles – even if the story itself is bleak. A memorable evening.