In 1965, Mary Barnes arrives at Kingsley Hall, the first resident of an alternative treatment centre for mental illness founded by the controversial psychotherapist, R. D. Laing. Having undergone shock therapy and insulin injections for her schizophrenia with little result, it seems unlikely that Mary will ever leave institutional care.
But her life changes when she meets Joseph Berke, her therapist. Encouraged to regress to a childlike state, Mary discovers a way through her madness with the paints and crayons given to her by Berke, creating the fantastic canvasses and drawings which would later bring her fame as an artist.
David Edgar’s play is adapted from Mary Barnes: Two Accounts of a Journey Through Madness, written by Mary Barnes and Joseph Berke. Edgar worked closely with both authors during the writing of this uniquely personal piece which challenges traditional assumptions about the reality of living with and treating mental illness.
Mary Barnes received its world premiere in August 1978 at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Studio, before transferring to the Royal Court Theatre, London.