Living with the Lights On by Mark Lockyer – Golden Goose Theatre, Camberwell, London
Mark Lockyer’s lead performance in the RSC’s 2016 production of the Alchemist was a tour de force, full of humour and suppressed violence. He had not appeared on a Stratford stage for 20 years, and this one man show is the story of what happened in between. Lockyer, playing Mercutio in Adrian Noble’s 1995 Romeo and Juliet, was both cocky and on the point of collapse. He saw the Devil (who asked to be called Beeze, short for Beelzebub) in a field by the River Avon. Everything spiralled entirely out of control and, after attempting suicide, dousing himself in petrol on York Racecourse and setting his girlfriend’s flat on fire, he ended up in Belmarsh.
Lockyer’s performance is brave and compelling. His stage presence is edgy, and he issues instructions on toilets, phones and so before he begins which, you suspect, it would be sensible to obey. His account of what happened to him before he eventually received treatment for undiagnosed bipolar disorder, is extraordinary personal and harrowing. He spares himself nothing, laying his appalling, destructive behaviour towards anyone who entered his orbit bare. However, what lodges longest in the mind is his account of what happens to those suffering from severe mental health problems in Britain. Understanding and kindness is everywhere, but so is arrogance and incomprehension and the system, at least in the ’90s, was brutal unless you’re lucky enough to meet the right people.
Lockyer’s show, which has played successfully around the country, is fascinating and chilling. It makes his performance in The Alchemist all the more remarkable – a real triumph. Huge praise is also due to the Golden Goose Theatre, a new Camberwell pub space which opened last week, at a the toughest time for theatre since the Civil War. Anyone who opens a theatre now is probably a little mad, but is definitely some kind of hero. Well done to the Goose, and to Mark Lockyer for getting in there first.