I will not be the first to sing the praises of Electrolyte, and those who came before have no doubt expressed themselves better. For the record my review is: ‘5 stars, best piece of theatre to grace the planet.’, but I am not here to write that review. I am here to write about why such excellent theatre is so needed and so precious to our society. Rest assured that my words will find a way of drifting towards the marvel that was Wildcard’s boundary-crossing production, however I must implore you to widen your gaze and engage with the potential impact of theatre like Electrolyte, and how deserving it is of our attention.
(The following paragraph contains spoilers. Feel free to skip to the next one if you like.)
Other reviews will say they don’t want to ruin the plot too much, and urge you to see it to find out yourself, but the ‘plot-twist’, that the protagonist Jessie suffers from schizophrenia is not something I feel prepared to avoid when approaching this piece of writing. Electrolyte is by young people for young people (we see you James Meteyard). It speaks out about mental health; it intends to open the dialogue and get people comfortable to talk about the truly daunting subject, by proving to us that it doesn’t have to be as daunting as it seems.
'never has a plot arc run so true with the younger generations'
I watched Jessie drink, go out, stay up, get high, come down and repeat with such familiarity that I felt I’d known her and her mates (the ensemble) for years. It’s something we can all relate to, if a little less at present. We know that not all disabilities are visible, we know that people could be under extreme suffering and never let you see it, but it still takes an entire performance to learn about Jessie’s mental health condition. This is why Electrolyte is brilliant, because never has a plot arc run so true with the younger generations. We bear witness more and more to the silence and trauma of poor mental health, and it is bloody refreshing when the performance ends with Jessie coming out the other side; the healing, the recovery, the relapse, the opportunity. Four of many things that we all need to know are possible after a storm but are too infrequently shown.
It’s doing more than this, though, and here’s where I get a bit ‘meta’. It’s telling Theatre, with a capital T, that to maintain its role in society; its very definition, the image that it holds in people’s minds must be remoulded. Because it is no secret that for young people, theatre is just one of many forms of entertainment into which they can delve to receive their daily dose of cultural enlightenment. The competition is hot, and Wildcard Theatre Company have raised the bar with this. They have raised it by proving to us that theatre is much less confined than we think, or even better, maybe it’s not confined at all.
Gig theatre as a whole takes the first teetering steps towards this attitude, but that is not to say that the genre alone can redefine an entire art-form. The carefully chosen music that was used; DnB, folk etc. were smeared so seamlessly onto the narrative that the music was not at all imposing, but instead fundamental to the plot. Therefore, the risk of intrusion caused from, by mere way of example ‘Come Away Death’ in Twelfth Night, is naught. There’s no ‘stop the narrative and listen to this nice song we made for you’. It just works. With no preconceived opinion of what this mysterious new genre, ‘gig theatre’, was meant to be, I watched Electrolyte and, along with everyone else who’s seen it, just knew that it worked.
I pose to you a new way of watching theatre. Ask yourself how many performances you have seen that, upon ending, you would feel confident recommending to your least theatrical friend? Watch Electrolyte before it stops streaming on Sunday and tell me it’s not the first thing on that list. This is the kind of theatre that warps the ebb and flow of creative progress. This is the kind of theatre that brings in new audiences, that changes how people think and feel, and most incredibly in this case, that makes you believe in the power of live performance.