New playwright Jess Lee gives an alternative view of mental illness with this touching and humorous play about life in a teenage mental health ward.
A nervous and awkward Danny arrives at a mental hospital to be met by Ryan, who is obsessed with David Attenborough, and wannabe rapper Jamal.
Most of the time Danny, Ryan and Jamal seem like ‘normal' bored teenagers; they sit around and do sudoku and have random chats about stuff their granddad said, or wonder what it would be like to be a penguin. One of the strangest things about it is the fact that three such different people are hanging out with each other.
The cast is fantastic, from Ed Jaundrell's timid Danny who thinks he's boring but is anything but, to penguin-loving former prefect Ryan played by an excellent John Bulwich, and the hyper (what the doctors call elevated mood) Jamal (Jarreau Benjamin) who likes to be known as MC Mental.
Writer Lee has a knack for witty dialogue and there are some great lines. She realises that teenagers in that situation act exactly how they would if they weren't in a mental health ward… generally engaging in good banter. At one point, Jamal complains about a bi-polar patient who is always up and down and Ryan retorts he's not bi-polar he's just up with everyone else and down with you.
It's not only the jokes that remind you of where it's set; it's also the confinement. At one point they talk about the word normal, or the ‘n' word, and explain that everyone is normal it's just a different type of normal. It sums up some of the stigma that surrounds mental illness. There are a couple of moments in Diabetic Penguins that could be smoothed out but overall it's a thoughtful, funny and well written production.
- Joanna Ing