BY Jo Bradley

Mental illness is an area some entertainers shy away from.

This is not the case with Crackers, the latest production by the Bite Production Theatre collective. This black comedy takes an unflinching look at Bipolar disorder, written by Georgina Adamson, a theatre-maker who was recently diagnosed.

Five acquaintances are trapped in a room for sixty minutes. In those sixty minutes, secrets are revealed and politeness turns to outright aggression as bubbling tensions are brought to the surface. This common dramatic structure, where strangers are forced to bond in a painfully intimate environment, is a common trope in popular culture. 12 Angry Men, The Breakfast Club, and The Hateful Eight are just a few examples.

In this play, the five strangers (Madelaine Osborn, Jessica Murphy, Reuben Thompson, Jesse Alston and Tom Matthews) are members of a support group for young people with Bipolar disorder, and must attend one final meeting to ‘celebrate’ graduating the course.

There’s Snake, an artist who likes impromptu poetry readings and lamenting how alone he is. Next is Jessica, a feisty Uni student who takes out her emotional trauma on those around her. Then there’s the newly diagnosed Mackenzie, who’s struggling to cope, and her maybe-boyfriend who recently attempted suicide. The characters are all distinctly drawn, however some verge on caricatures to amp up the comedy. This is particularly evident in the Jesus-loving support group leader, who provides much of the show’s laughs through his attempts to cure mental illness with inspirational flyers.

The show is an unflinching look at mental illness and its many impacts on individuals’ social, work and academic life. Adamson’s script keeps you engaged through flashbacks which recreate moments where Bipolar disorder negatively impacted these character’s lives. These moments- like a failed job interview and public humiliation when buying medication- make us understand and empathise with the characters.

The Sydney Fringe Festival is full of fantastic theatre performances and this is one of them. At only $20 a ticket, get down to the Old 505 Theatre in Newtown and support local Australian theatre