Toxic – Altrincham Garrick (GM Fringe 2021)

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45. With high profile celebrities like Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles openly discussing their struggles with mental health, it feels like there’s been a shift towards these conversations becoming more common-place. It’s OK not to be OK.

However, toxic masculinity still pervades society, leading men to bottle up their struggles rather than talking about their mental wellbeing. Written by Daniel Lovatt, Toxic aims to open up the conversation and challenge the stigma that stops men being able to openly talk about mental health. It’s an important message that is delivered with conviction by all involved.

Toxic GM Fringe Altrincham Garrick Manchester Theatre Review
Andy (Patrick Price) finds consolation from his best friend James (Joseph Gallogly). Image provided by Daniel Lovatt.

When Andy discovers that his husband has been having an affair, his world spirals into darkness. Struggling to comprehend life alone and stuck in a dead end job, the only thing stopping him from ending his life is his best friend, James.

The play opens with Andy contemplating taking his life, sat on the edge of a bridge which crosses over a motorway. It’s a startling beginning which instantly sets out the play’s objective of showing that it’s OK to talk about your mental health; something reinforced by the #AndysManClub flyers and face masks underneath the auditorium seats in Altrincham Garrick’s Lauriston Studio.

Emotionally wounded by his husband, Patrick Price sensitively renders his character’s mental collapse with considerable accuracy and care. As someone who has had close experiences with mental illness, I felt great empathy with Price’s character. His depression seemed all too familiar, as he shuns James’ friendship, becoming more reclusive, and finding solace instead in alcohol. Price’s attentive performance made me identify with, and care for, his character; truly hoping that he can find a way through this, and not end his life.

Thankfully, he is saved from the brink by the support of his best friend, James. Joseph Gallogly delivers an outstanding performance, stealing the show as Andy’s invariably positive mate who has a chipper, upbeat outlook on life. With a fantastic sense of humour and some brilliantly funny jokes, James uses comedy as a coping mechanism. Yet Gallogly deftly renders a multifaceted character, whose anger and desolation subtly simmers beneath the surface. Indicating that his character is also struggling with his own mental health issues, this builds to a climax as Gallogly delivers an emotionally devastating monologue, proving that no matter how happy someone appears, they can also be struggling with depression.

Toxic GM Fringe Altrincham Garrick Manchester Theatre Review
Camo (Joseph Thomas) and James (Joseph Gallogly) down the pub. Image provided by Daniel Lovatt. 

For the majority of the time, the characters in Toxic are sat down having conversations. Whilst these are crucial conversations to have, it makes the theatrical direction throughout most of the play feel static. Likewise, there’s an extended scene where Andy watches a video on his laptop. Without being able to see the video, the audience can only hear it, and observe the character’s reaction as he relives his happy memories with his husband. This scene is too long and either needs cutting substantially or a means of visually showing the audience the video Andy is watching, because the play stalls and becomes theatrically uninspiring during this moment.

I also felt that the music jarred the mood of some scenes; particularly one that showed Andy spiralling into a drunken depression. The music chosen was perfectly fitting, adding to the atmosphere of the scene, but it came to an abrupt end, which spoiled its tone. Perhaps a fade would have been more appropriate. Although, it is worth considering that this may have just been a technical issue that only happened in the performance I watched.

Putting these minor niggles aside, Toxic is still an excellent play with stellar performances, but it’s one that needs polishing slightly to make it all the more compelling. Given that it has basically sold out all its performances at the GM Fringe, I hope Toxic continues to be developed and performed to wider audiences.

Perfectly blending humour and pathos, the play is brilliantly written, and with Toxic spreading a powerful positive message that it’s OK to talk about mental health, it certainly deserves to be performed again in the future!

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Please follow #AndysManClub on social media or contact Mind if you need to talk to someone about your mental wellbeing. 

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