“I’m not trying to justify it…that’s the fucking point”
The next couple of shows programmed at the Hampstead Downstairs are two shows that have previously done well – Deposit and Alligators, which interestingly have press nights scheduled, contrary to the usual practice there. For the moment though, it is the thought-provoking and morally complex Diminished – Sam Hoare’s debut play – that is occupying the experimental space.
In Polly Sullivan’s starkly uncompromising arena, designed in the round and directed by Tom Attenborough, we first witness a psychiatric session between the high-functioning Mary and her clearly intrigued doctor. They banter almost flirtatiously, dancing around diagnoses and discussions, as we edge closer to the revelation that she’s being held in a secure facility after the death of her severely disabled young daughter.
The degree to which she is responsible for that death is what occupies Hoare as he explores the murky morality around it. Bringing in her lawyer, her husband, a mother whose daughter has the same condition, we see the case for diminished responsibility being constructed and then taken apart by Mary’s refusal to agree to the plea of temporary insanity. The truth or otherwise of her exhaustion, her post-partum depression, debated for its private and public benefits to her case, to all similar cases.
Naturally it is rarely an easy play to watch but it is always remarkably even-handed. A superb lead performance from Lyndsey Marshal keeps you on a knife-edge about Mary -potential sociopath, grieving mother, either or both, her fiercely burning determination hits up hard against Gwilym Lee as her endlessly tolerant husband, Rufus Wright’s doctor, Wendy Nottingham’s sterling work as the would-be comrade. And the play wisely doesn’t condescend to offer easy answers, a flashback of a final scene and a brilliantly conceived reveal from Elliot Griggs’ lighting tease at potential clues but this is theatre bold enough to leave you with more questions than when you arrived, yet still feeling satisfied.