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In Two Minds review: Inventively exposing the exhilaration and frustrations of living with bipolar disorder

Dublin Theatre Festival 2023: Karen McCartney nicely captures the emotional mess of sympathy, irritation and pain in this play by Joanne Ryan

In Two Minds


Into her daughter’s minimalist studio apartment arrives an exuberant mother for an open-ended stay during a house renovation. The ensuing mother-and-daughter duet is given a sharp twist by Joanne Ryan in her new play for Fishamble, heightening both action and emotion with the addition of the challenges of mental illness. Under Sarah Jane Scaife’s quietly deft direction for this premiere, script and performances take flight in a production that inventively exposes the light and dark, the exhilaration and frustrations of living with bipolar disorder.

The compact set, complete with work-from-home desk, occupies only half the stage, underlining the emotional intensity as the pair negotiate the highs and lows to come. Alyson Cummins’s clever, intuitive design, Kevin Smith’s lighting, Rob Moloney’s soundscape and Sinéad Cuthbert’s costumes evoke all the outside worlds, as well as the unseen characters of Rachel, who is the daughter’s commissioning editor, McMahon, who is the mother’s builder, and Richard, the daughter’s boyfriend.

Pom Boyd, as Mother, adroitly dances her way from charming and witty parent to disco-diva party guest and beyond with infectious enthusiasm and style, although the signs are worrying: there is obsessive calling of her friends and the builders, plus embarrassing interventions during her daughter’s Zoom calls. Her highwire act gathers dangerous speed as the days and nights go by. Daughter, played by a low-key, attuned Karen McCartney, attempts to keep her mother at bay and her freelance-journalism work alive while mostly keeping her cool.

Once the sparring, laughs and sizzling exhilaration peak, Mother spirals down. Boyd does this so well: the hilarious exuberance, the fizzling out and then the falling. This is ravaging for both Mother and Daughter; it’s also familiar territory even though they admit they have never spoken truthfully about it. As Boyd physically catches the transformation from vertical effervescence to horizontal slumped heap, McCartney nicely captures the emotional mess of sympathy, irritation and pain.


The exhaustion and depression bring waves of negativity and mean-spiritedness. And, while Mother may insult anyone and everyone, firing her builders and remonstrating with bus drivers, it is Daughter who will bear the brunt, as Mother’s criticisms of the apartment’s decor or her daughter’s dress sense become more ferocious, more barbed and more targeted – finally upending Daughter’s controlled coping technique in a scene that Scaife and McCartney pace beautifully.

The resolution and luminous closing scene of a night sky, teeming with optimism, might appear too simple, too implausible, but Mother and Daughter have been hereabouts before. This is a moment to be cherished, taking it for what it is, as the cycle of life will continue.

Continues at Draíocht, Blanchardstown, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival, until Saturday, October 14th