A bold and raw account of one man’s journey, Living with the Lights On is the culmination of Mark Lockyer’s successful battle with addiction and bipolar disorder. In an interview with Forge Press, Mark discusses his new show, his mum, and the bits in between.
“Over the course of five years he was living on the road, he checked in and out of psychiatric hospitals and was drinking heavily.”
He began a promising early career, having trained at RADA, with a number of successful productions in the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Regardless of his early success he developed a problem with alcohol and other substances which, exacerbated by his condition, lead him into decline. Eventually walking out of the RSC’s Romeo and Juliet in 1995, Mark’s career made a sudden halt, he was thrown out of his flat and was forced to live homeless. Over the course of five years he was living on the road, he checked in and out of psychiatric hospitals and was drinking heavily.
The effect of alcohol on someone like Mark heightens their already extreme emotional tendencies. “When I’ve got alcohol in me,” he dispassionately explains, “my brain simply reacts differently than someone else. These effects are inherited like old money.” His stark honesty regarding his state of mind during this time is refreshing, admitting first hand his inherent problem with alcohol: “Life seemed a little bit better with a drink inside of me.” He also comments on a larger problem with the industry. “The profession is rife with drugs, rife with alcoholism, there’s a lot of pressure and it’s a way of switching off. I used it for all of those things”.
“I’m very open about the situations I got myself into.”
However, Mark dislikes the focus placed on his condition. “This show,” he says, “is much more than a vehicle about manic depression. It talks about when you lose a job, when you end up with the wrong bird, what happens when a relationship breaks down. You don’t have to have suffered mental illness. It does explore manic depression and what it’s like to be in the mind of a manic depressive. But it’s also autobiographical. I’m very open about the situations I got myself into. I feel very sensitive, I suppose, about this show sounding about just one thing”.
The idea for Living with the Lights On originated as far back as 2000. “I was on stage in a production of Hamlet for the Globe Theatre,” he explains, “drifting off, as I usually do. I was thinking, ‘I can’t believe what’s happened to me, I’m not going to sweep this under the carpet’”. Subsequently, Mark began creating the first few iterations of the show orally with minimal writing, and allowed them to evolve in a very natural way. He started to perform his ideas “on the streets, in people’s living rooms.”
“I thought: nobody wants to hear a story that has elements of mental health in it, people were still scared of it, almost like talking about AIDS in the early 80s.”
These early performances brought frustration, however. “I thought, I’m wasting my time. Because nobody wants to hear a story that has elements of mental health in it. People were still scared of it, almost like talking about AIDS in the early 80s. It was a taboo subject, you just wouldn’t talk about it. I felt like I’d wasted three years of my life, but my mother said to me ‘there’ll come a time when this story will be heard, when people will want to hear it.’” The script went in a drawer in around 2003 and Mark moved on.
The artistic director of Living with the Lights On, Ramin Gray, initiated its return. “I was working with the Actors Touring Company in 2015 and Ramin was asking me about mental health. I gave him this play I wrote all those years ago. He read it and said ‘I think it’s brilliant.’”
It’s this exact honesty about his life as a whole that’s contributed to the huge success of his production. He remains stoic in the face of the hardships he’s encountered. “The experiences that I went through changed me, and changed my attitude towards things,” he explains. “I just don’t care any more to be honest about what people think of me. I went through hell and back.” The responses from audience members have been positive too, he says. “All the time I get people come up to me afterwards who identify a lot with it. Even people without similar conditions, they’ll say ‘it really moved me’. So I think it touches people in a very profound way. I had no idea that when I put this on stage that it would have the effect that it did on people.”
Living with the Lights On is playing at the Crucible Studio Theatre, Sheffield 6 – 7 November 2017 at 7:45pm.
Photograph by Stephen Cummiskey.