Cheque Please, Depression, Diderik Ypma, Edinburgh Fringe, Elizabeth Boyd, Genevieve Cunnell, Maddie Hardy, Mental Illness, Nicholas Slater, Nikki Hill, Nottingham New Theatre, Pleasance Zoo, Rebecca Jones, Theatre Review, Therapy
I think that Confucius is responsible for the well-known aphorism that “the best student theatre always comes from Nottingham.” I suppose that the old devil is proved right once again with the Nottingham New Theatre’s “Cheque Please,” which is currently established at the Pleasance Zoo. “Cheque Please” is written by Nikki Hill and it demonstrates the usual gliding smoothness of a NNT play, that effortlessness which essentially constitutes normality within a NNT production. It is built around a commanding and very sophisticated performance by Madeleine Hardy (who played a comic villain in last year’s “The Reviewers”) as Ivy, a café waitress who is trying to keep a lid down on depression.
Ivy is not on medication, or readily identifiable as unwell, and so you are made to feel vaguely uncomfortable at wondering why she can’t just snap out of it. “Cheque Please” neither appeals to us to pity Ivy nor extends any grounds for disbelieving her story. We are given a realistically undramatic picture of depression and we are meant to puzzle over it, what it means, and what can be done about it.
The Victorians used to maintain that masturbation causes strong young people to become feeble and degenerate. This play appears to make the same case against therapy. Ivy attends a weekly counselling session, where she is supposed to open up about herself and reveal all of her secrets to a kind of depressed collective. Problematically, however, there is nothing in her life to reveal and it seems dangerous to go out walking in this fog. She works in a humdrum café; she goes to boring parties and listlessly crosses paths with old friends and flames. She can find no point of entry into life outside of herself.
So “Cheque Please” is more of a play about alienation than depression, or else its account of depression is more of an existential than a medical condition. The play uses a good device to put across this alienation: Ivy is frequently pausing the action on stage to make comments about the people she meets, as if she is reading out little annotations in the script. When she first meets another character, therefore, we have no means of telling whether she is really talking to them or whether she is still talking to us. She is consequently always not quite there, wavering on the surface of her reality rather than plunging in.
The best and most frightening moment from this play comes when Ivy attends a colleague’s funeral and hisses to herself that “it’s not about me.” Yet she only goes and interprets some words from the deceased’s father as being about her, as unveiling an impromptu signpost to her own death. She warns that everybody in this story is portrayed not as they are but from her own perspective. She does not, in other words, view them as independent people but as furniture which is blocking up her own mind. She is trapped in the intense, bitter loneliness of the narcissist. She is one of those depressives who, to paraphrase Freud, constantly talks about how worthless they are and never shuts up about themselves.
My sole qualm about “Cheque Please” is that I have almost an instinct that Ivy will grow out of her depression. The play feels too studenty and its concerns are all student concerns. There are clear-eyed observations of the sort of places where students work and the sort of parties which students go to. Ivy’s depression resembles that mini nervous breakdown which many people appear to experience now between leaving university and forging a subsequent adult identity. But it seems remiss to be disappointed by the lack of melodrama in Ivy’s depression. Instead, this play asserts that these battles have to be fought closer to home.