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  • Isabella Thompson

Review - Surfacing

Updated: Jul 4

Omnibus Theatre

Playing until 01 June 2024

Photo credit: Martin Bostock

Review {AD-Gifted ticket}

Surfacing follows a troubled CBT therapist, Luc (Sarah Livingstone), whose encounter with Owen (Jerome Yates), a new patient punctures her reality, landing her in a hallucinogenic state and she feels she is drowning. Despite striking visuals and ambitious goals, its meaningful story is diminished by some curious creative decisions.

Director Stephen Bailey and writer Tom Powell worked closely together as creative partners, with Bailey dramaturgically interpreting and developing Tom’s text during the process. Reading the play-text, it is clear that the transition from page to stage has transformed the show. Bold choices were made, some of which delight the imagination, others feel heavy-handed.

Firstly, it is vital to highlight the significance of the play’s critique of the reductionistic approach to mental health by UK government. Powell perfectly captures the robotic mundanity of CBT and SMART goals, highlighting their limitations for individuals that do not fit their computational categories. Projections of Luc’s internal thoughts that contrast to her spoken words highlight the juxtaposition between rigid protocol and the lived human experience. This, in combination with Abi Turner’s hypnotic water imagery compliments the performance in creating an other-worldly ambience, alluding to the ineffable nature of many mental health conditions, often overlooked by rational healthcare approaches.

The story would, however, monumentally improve with some key changes to its set-up. Primarily, the lack of build at the beginning of the narrative obstructs the audience’s connection with the titular character and impairs the impact of the subsequent action. Crucially, we need to witness a broader picture of Luc’s experience in her job as a CBT practitioner before jumping into the pivotal appointment that overwhelms her. Only then, could we see the big shifts into the psychedelic world of Luc’s mental illness which could be elevated even further. Establishing Luc’s world would not only justify her experiences for the audience, but would also better serve the play’s message.

Indeed, a fuller development of the narrative would make the moments of physical theatre appear less jarring. This is most evident the first scene where Luc’s moments of disassociation are communicated through strangling gestures. Moments such as these demonstrate that the main pitfall of the play is an over-stylisation of the text. The mystical episodes of psychosis are conceptually brilliant with great scope for further absurdism and fantasy (particularly the use of live video and fish eye lens); however, when a serious or sincere point is made in theatre, a heavy hand is usually not a successful approach.

To speak plainly, in this production, each creative choice almost hits the spot, but not quite: the haunting presence of the lab mice is ingenious but becomes a laboured motif; the use of motion sensors in the sound design is brilliant but using swimming as a metaphor for a mental health journey feels cliché; Luc swimming with Owen in the final scene is a heartwarming full circle moment, but their singing at the end accompanied by a strange electro-pop track cheapens it.

Livingstone brings Luc to life with an endearing earnestness that works for the part. Though there were moments where the direction let her down, she keeps the energy of the piece alive with impressive vigour. The same can be said for Yates, whose portrayal of Owen as a damaged but kind person, desperate to seek help is heartfelt; his other roles within the play on the other hand, is less successful. Yates’ lack of vocal variation for each character, maintaining the same accent and tone, is an easy fix that would greatly improve the quality of his performance.

Surfacing delivers a high concept production that has impressive technical elements but overall needs work. The sentiment, passion and care that has been put into the piece should be applauded, as should their advocation for better mental health treatment and inclusive spaces for people with disabilities and neurodivergence. I think it just needs more work, that is to say, less work.


Director/dramaturg: Stephen Bailey

Writer: Tom Powell

Video designer / captioner: Ben Glover

Sound designer / composer: David Denyer

Production designer: Victoria Maytom

Designer: TK Hay

Lighting designer: Abi Turner

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4 commentaires

Tamasin Cook
Tamasin Cook
28 mai


Just to let you know you have incorrectly credited the photographer, actors and much of the creative team.

Xi Ye
04 juil.
En réponse à

Thank you Tamsin for flagging this and delays in rectifying this. I have updated the names.


19 mai

Dear Reviewer - did you actually see this play? It was so good and well acted by both actors. Also you have got the actors names wrong! Luc is played by Sarah Livingsatone and Owen by Jerome Yates - the names you have used were from a previous production. Both Sarah and Jerome were superb on friday night when a group of us saw it! There was a real chemistry there right from the start, so totally disagree with yopur comments about the opening scene.

Xi Ye
04 juil.
En réponse à

Thank you for your comment. I have now updated the names of the actors and creatives.

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