Bristol Theatre Reviews

Review: Dear Eliza at the Alma Tavern Theatre

A unique and important piece of theatre, diving into friendship and mental health

Anyone with a history of depression, particularly as a child or young person, or has found themselves with their own child or young person experiencing poor mental health, will recognise the authenticity in this piece of writing.

This makes Dear Eliza, a really valuable piece of work. It’s the perfect piece for communicating the mental health difficulties particularly faced by girls and young women in the first decades of their lives.

With no friends at secondary school and a father who doesn’t understand unwritten social rules and skills, Eliza is lost in a world created by people too uncomfortable to discuss bereavement.

Written and performed by Barbara Diesel, Dear Eliza explores grief, depression, loss and grief again. This is through a series of unsent letters between herself and a close friend. They are the words that wanted to be said but were too hard to say aloud.

Hands shake as they clutch paper. Crumpled letters, words touching each other in soft folds before being tucked safely in a pocket close to the heart.

We learn more about the relationship between Eliza and Maeve. The sense of loyalty, warmth and friendship. How friends can become so close they are like one person. When one of those friends is no longer there what happens to that void?

It’s a really important piece of work, centering the voice of a young adult in the context of mental health needs and support from around the age of secondary school to university.

Where conversations and co-production with professionals and those with lived experience around provision and support does not happen anywhere near enough, once again, theatre manages to fill that gap.

Struggling with mental health during university years is a really vulnerable time. Especially so for young people living away from home for the first time. It’s an issue which has affected Bristol in recent years and one seeing the development of The Lived Experience for Action Right Now (LEARN).

Subjects such as hoping to be severely unwell enough for any support from CAMHS or talking therapy are grimly humorous for those who know. It’s interesting that Diesel raises the exhaustion behind talking about how you feel, especially when struggling with depression. Go on child, talk to this mental health professional about your deepest fears and upset before I drop you back at school. It makes you examine your own shortcomings as a parent.

But there are light moments. Happy memories of impulsive fun between friends. Playful allegories pepper the monologue which is built through wonderfully illustrative language.

Swipes are taken at how movies tackle mental health difficulties and neurodivegrent issues. Lord forbid Hollywood get their hands on the DSM-5-TR. Blueberries that go mouldy over night. Suicide inconvenienced by shop opening hours.

These balance out the rawness. The anger in grief, particularly where suicide is involved. The burning injustice of the pecking order of funeral seating.

As each letter progresses and the world of Eliza and Maeve is built around them, there does come a twist in the tale.

Come the end, I am reminded of lyrics by Nick Wire ‘All I want to do is live, no matter how miserable it is’. Depression, the hitting of rock bottom, grief and guilt is where people diverge and outcomes are individual. Those who find that crack in the darkness through which to escape will always wear the depths of depression like a comfortable old hoody. But for the moment, it is enough.

Dear Eliza is on at the Alma Tavern Theatre until Wednesday 07 February 2024. It’s definitely worth seeing this unique and authentic piece of theatre. It brings to the spotlight what needs to be said about the things no one wants to talk about.

To book:

For more information about the play:
YouTube Shorts