The lure of the confessional is at the heart of this one-man show by actor Mark Lockyer, who suffered a breakdown during a performance of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at the RSC in 1995. ‘Living With the Lights On’ is an account of this and of the spiral that followed as manic depression took over his life.
Director Ramin Gray heightens our sense of being privy to something private by setting everything up like an AA meeting. There are no real props, just a trestle table with tea and biscuits, which Lockyer proffers as we walk in. He makes a few jokes about David Lan, the Young Vic’s artistic director.
Of course, this is mostly scripted. It’s a disarming way of preparing us for the point at which ‘real-life’ experience and performance merge into something else. Lockyer’s monologue is filled with people exaggerated into caricature, and his mental decline is egged on by the Devil himself.
Lockyer builds up his past in increasingly feverish layers – it’s a story of flights, impulsive train journeys, ex-girlfriends and psychiatric hospitals. The gentle humour of the start darkens and warps, as the people he introduces into his tale are increasingly reduced to laughable walk-on roles.
This isn’t an easy plea for pity, aimed at tears like a missile. Sometimes it’s close to alienating, and more effective because of that – this is theatre leaning on its own ploys and techniques to enact Lockyer’s mental state. This staging dramatises what he’s been through in more ways than one, and he brings a riveting, spittle-flecked energy to it.