A surprise addition to The Other Room’s Insomnia Season, Nicola Reynolds’ A Sunny Disposition, marks her triumphant debut as both a playwright and director. Exploring the perceptions, consequences and struggles of addiction, and in particular alcoholism, a piece such as this is always going to have a certain depth of emotion. What elevates this piece is the synthesis of Reynolds’ courageous writing and Neal McWilliams’ uninhibited performance as the reckless, tortured Charlie, fragmenting before the audience’s eyes with a raw, relentless authenticity.
Provoked by a relapse from her own addiction, A Sunny Disposition was originally written with the intention Reynolds would perform the piece herself but, finding it too personal, she instead began writing this piece specifically for Neal, giving her the necessary distance to create an honest, yet fully realised character; a reflection of herself but with the artistry required to transcend the space between theatre and personal confession.
That the play was written with McWilliams’ in mind is evident in the conviction with which he plays the character; he wears Charlie like a second skin, seamlessly portraying the ever-shifting moods of an addict. McWilliams transitions in an instant between the raging highs and crushing lows – wild, near maniacal laughter tailing off into a the expression of someone completely lost, eyes haunted by the illness from which he suffers, before another surge of energy sends him spiralling off into a new direction.
The 40 minute monologue is accompanied in places by intermittent bursts of music, some of which work better than others; a throbbing club beat to accompany the flashbacks of wild nights out is used to good effect, but other barely audible pieces of music contribute nothing in terms of progression or depth, sometimes simply distracting from the storytelling.
Reynolds’ frustration at British society’s perception of addiction permeates the play, highlighting the differences between America’s view of alcoholism as a disease and Britain’s view of it as “a disgrace”, and exploring the toxicities that so often partner addiction, including “the dirtiest, most shameful word of the 21st century” – debt. The discussion of contemporary issues, accompanied by casual references to local parts of Cardiff, gives the play a relevancy in its unsettling propinquity to reality.
So many aspects of an addict’s personality are captured within this short play, the most heart breaking of which is the desperation; the desperation to keep promises to loved ones, to stay away from the insidious pull of the alcohol and the drugs, to keep fooling yourself that everything is okay and most poignantly in this aptly named play, the constant attempt to maintain the care-free front everyone expects. A Sunny Disposition seeks to remind us an addict is not just an addict; they are a person with an addiction, and that distinction makes all the difference.