We should, perhaps, commend the airtime that the mental health services (or lack of) are being increasingly given, a theme not atypical at this year’s Fringe. And where more overtly is this prescient message being propounded than in Rust, penned by composer Geraint Owen and writer Helena Fox, and product of Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society (the company behind SiX, they hasten to add).
This new musical follows Evie, a twenty-year-old battling an eating disorder, as she admits herself into Fairwater Rehabilitation Centre, replete with a roster of fellow patients who pave her road to recovery, and all set alongside the political backdrop reminding us that the mental health services are grossly underfunded (no surprises there). We ebb and flow from one-on-one to group counselling, with the monotonous messages of “this is normal” and “everybody feels like this” being the only takeaway crumbs. With some generous theatrical licensing, the psychologist oversteps the professional mark to confide in Evie that, from personal experience, it does get better.
“With clearer research and investigation, this wholesome, sincere musical could find its focus”
Composer (and director) Geraint Owen, whose accomplished score is muted and delicately orchestrated, executes the heavy lifting; its themes weave, with careful reserve and with modest memorability, introspective musical monologues and toe-tapping outbursts. A particularly poignant moment comes when Caroline, an addict and mother (performed sensitively by Lara Cosmetatos), reads a letter from her children wishing her to recover and return home. But if the Fairwater Centre is a place for patients to be palliated of their addictions and disorders, their respective baggage seldom sank below the surface; their afflictions were, instead, indicated by each character’s scripted disclosure, without being visually apparent, and combatted with comparative ease, and with messages that were well-meaning, but lacked psychiatric substance.
In spite of this, Rust has been selling out since its first preview, a trend certain to continue; the cast is compelling and the band is tight. With clearer research and investigation, this wholesome, sincere musical could find its focus.