Mental illness is one of the last taboos. The British, particularly, have never been known to share their feelings, thoughts and emotions. We keep everything locked inside.
So to admit that you suffer from manic depression, and talk openly about various suicide attempts, takes a huge amount of courage. To do it in front of an audience, night after night, is nothing short of heroic.
About 20 years ago RADA-trained actor Mark Lockyer lost the plot. In fact he went totally off the grid and suffered a complete meltdown. Shakespeare can do that to you.
After battling his demons he has returned to the stage with a one-man show, Living With The Lights On, that has been playing this week at London’s Young Vic Theatre in front of a sell out crowd. It’s fair to say that the audience were left shell-shocked after listening to Mark’s remarkable journey.
It’s incredibly difficult to critique something like this. It isn’t a drama, and to describe it as a performance piece is erroneous because Living with The Lights On isn’t performed by an actor delivering someone else’s words.
Simply, it is Mark delivering a 75-minute monologue about himself. It’s a bit like being a fly on the wall in a therapy session and, for this man, it may be a very cathartic tool to aid his treatment.
It comes across as being entirely casual and off the cuff (though that’s possibly down to the supportive and sympathetic direction from Ramin Gray, artistic director of the Actors Touring Company).
Mark stands at the door shaking hands and welcoming theatre-goers before launching into a brutally graphic account of his fight with bipolar and the Black Dog snapping at his heels.
His training as an actor could allow him to distance himself from the character on stage but I doubt he takes the option. There’s a wild look in his eyes and pain etched on his troubled face as he, once again, immerses himself in the facts with a furious urgency.
His profession also gives him the confidence to talk about subjects that very few of us would utter to our own friends much less an audience of strangers.
This show is about as intimate as you can get and it frequently makes uncomfortable watching. No fourth wall. We’re in for a night of jaw-dropping honesty.
“I have been dreaming about tonight for the past three-and-a-half months since I was told that I was going to appear here,” says Mark, stunned at seeing so many people. There isn’t a chair to be had on press night.
“I originally thought that we should have put a few more posters in the foyer because I didn’t think that anyone was going to come.
“But the theatre’s artistic director, David Lan, said: ‘Have a little bit of faith. I think the universe is with us on this one.'”
What follows is harrowing. Welcome to One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest with Mark Lockyer standing in for Jack Nicholson. You’re never sure whether to laugh or cry as Mark almost casually throws into the conversation how he took a massive paracetamol overdose or, worse, doused himself in petrol.
It started, he tells us, when he was at the RSC, appearing as Mercutio in Romeo & Juliet. He went for a walk in Hampton Lucy, a delightful hamlet near Stratford-Upon-Avon, and met the devil. He didn’t have horns, but was dressed like an American Beach Boy and he was to be his new best friend for years to come.
Actually, his problems almost certainly manifested themselves earlier when, in his London flat, he became fixated with a certain Robbie Williams track which he played on a continual loop (who knew Robbie Williams could affect you like that too?).
“The devil asked if I wanted a one-way ticket to hell. I said no thanks, I am a member of the RSC.”
Mark’s world began to unravel. He went on stage and forgot his lines, he stole a saxophone from the band and played a few riffs that were definitely not Shakespearean. His love life became complicated before taking a nosedive and, in-between, there were manic character swings, erratic and unstable behaviour, and those suicide attempts.
The first time it was 80 tablets, which were brutally pumped out, and he doesn’t spare any details. Then he inexplicably found himself alone, at night, on a racecourse where he doused himself in petrol. Later he bought more petrol and soaked a flat where he was staying without any thought to himself or other tenants.
There were visits to medics, priests, psychiatrists and prison; endless reports and a lot of earnest professionals listening to his very well enunciated gibberish.
Astonishingly he now finds his life turning full circle and we wish him well.
Living With The Lights On has toured to the country’s theatres and is being taken to a number of medical establishments, which is highly commendable. Mark’s story is inspirational and his story will offer hope to thousands of sufferers like him whose lives are blighted by mental illness.
Living With The Lights On
Living With The Lights On is the harrowing, brutally frank, story of actor Mark Lockyer's fight with manic depression. It shocks, stuns and inspires.