A GRIPPING play with insightful, personal, and focused commentary on mental health, Surfacing on tour at the Mercury Theatre was great to watch and a play that stays with you.

When ‘cutting-edge’ technology fails, perhaps a sign of a good play is that the acting, script, story and very much in this case, message, still all sing and work together.

‘Surfacing’ by writer Tom Powell and director Stephen Bailey was supposed to use sophisticated sensor technology – which had shrunk from clunky power banks five years ago to now being sleek wrist watches.

However, 20-minutes in, during what was a very enjoyable to watch but bleak monologue about spiralling anxiety, the play was stopped due to technical difficulties.

I was not very fussed, as frankly, the last time I was in the Mercury Theatre’s small studio to review likewise another touring play, I was delayed a good half hour due to “tech issues”.

In fact, when the play resumed 15 minutes later it was eerie but satisfying to watch actor Sarah Livingstone who played the main character ‘Luc’ - a bit unlikable, a bit rude, but deeply written NHS CBT therapist – recreate her scene identically.

Sarah’s frantic eyes kept darting around, skilfully conveying she was having a conversation with the other voices instead of her head and though sometimes hiding professionalism, Sara sold her character's being truly kind despite the 'bad thing' she had done.

Gazette: Writer - Tom Powell won the UK’s biggest playwrighting award called The Papatango Prize in 2021Writer - Tom Powell won the UK’s biggest playwrighting award called The Papatango Prize in 2021 (Image: Pamela Raith)

My favourite commentary was watching Luc interact with her rigid and rude boss portrayed by the amazing, but slightly underused, Jerome Yates.

Jerome was great as the smiley, horrible and abusive boss, a comedic unveiling of how the workplace mirrors the power dynamics in the health system and can be often the root of many mental health issues.

As Luc’s insanity increased, her hypocritical boss was replaced by a robotic voiceover and time projection, an inspired moment which caused huge laughs.

That small but effective use of technology also showed that technology in theatre can be meaningful and not gratuitous to the story or audience experience.

I preferred it whenever both characters were on stage, bouncing off each other whether in their insecurities, traumas, ideas, or positive qualities such as humour and conscientiousness.  

The bittersweet ending showed even though the play was critical of the NHS’ “underfunded” mental health services, that the strength of both therapy and theatre is honest, engaging, and human conversation.