Play challenges perceptions of growing up mentally ill

Max McKenna is holding a mirror up to society.

The Melbourne actor and star of an upcoming production of The Almighty Sometimes, by Australian playwright Kendall Feaver, hopes to provoke conversations and challenge perceptions of what it means to grow up with a mental illness.

The story follows 18-year-old Anna, played by McKenna, her mother Renee, played by Nadine Garner, and the timeless struggle of a mother having to learn to let go of her daughter who is trying to find her identity - with the topic of mental illness added to the mix.

"It is quite a universal story and a very modern story," McKenna told AAP. 

"This play talks about medication and medicating young people, which is something we often shy away from talking about.

"It makes you start asking questions about yourself and how you view mental illness, how you view society and how we hold people who don't fit within the 'normal' system."

McKenna said it was unlike anything they had done before, with the story throwing out cliches such as the "overbearing mother with a child trying to break free".

"The relationship is incredibly complicated," McKenna said.

Anna is portrayed as a victim in the performance but also a perpetrator.

"Historically, mental illness was really put in villains and villainised as a trait as opposed to them (being) a victim," the actor said.

"(This is) not romanticised, which some programs and shows have the tendency (to do) - when it's young people with mental illnesses they tend to romanticise it and make it beautiful.

"I don't think Kendall shies away from showing some of the more harmful effects of what it's like to live with a disorder like this."

Audiences are continually forced to reckon with the question of who's right and who's wrong, which McKenna says challenges them to look introspectively with nuance.

"It puts on stage things that we avoid and mask in our day-to-day life and can take that mask off and show the truth about society or the truth about yourself," they said.

"It shifts who we root for throughout the play and there's no clear answers which is very true to life because it's a very complicated topic but very relevant to right now."

Despite the dark themes, McKenna said it was also a story about love, joy and hope - and audiences could expect to laugh.

"I just hope people go away having big discussions and questioning society and themselves," they said.

The Almighty Sometimes plays Melbourne's Southbank Theatre from April 15 to May 18.

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