The devastating effects of mental illness ripple outward like a wave, engulfing not just the sufferer but their family. It's this that Julia Cranney explores sensitively in her new play, Empty Beds, which is being presented at the Fringe in association with the charity Young Minds UK.
Sisters Jo (Matilda Tucker), Catherine (Cranney) and Emily (Carys Wright) are visiting Jo's twin brother, Mike, who's been hospitalised after an incident at home. Their journey has got off to a bad start after university student Emily's late arrival means they miss their first train from London. And tempers flare as further delays prompt barely buried resentments to surface.
The strength of Cranney's writing is in its believability. Across their fraught journey, the ways the sisters push each other's buttons rings true. Their personalities are well drawn and their relationships grounded in the kind of careless humour and deeply ingrained resentments characteristic of long familiarity.
Tucker, Wright and Cranney have an easy chemistry, with Cranney's sardonic, coiled performance as Catherine standing out. Director Glynne Steele uses the set—four train seats—effectively, keeping things fluid by having the cast shift around as their allegiances change. Ali Hunter's lighting design evokes movement, and train announcements add realism and, at a key moment, drive the plot.
But what really elevates this production, as it travels towards its gut punch of a destination, is its realistic rendering of the bundle of concern, guilt and frustration that mental illness drops like a ticking time bomb into people's lives.