Partitioned into two rooms by a see-through curtained glass wall, the staging of The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland (TESWL) brings an experience of auditory hallucination that alarmingly depicts the chaos of psychosis. Co-authored by double act David Woods and Jon Haynes, this 85-minute play assimilates mental illness in ways that are comical, disturbing and utterly moving.
Produced by Ridiculusmus, led by Woods and Haynes, the play is touring the UK in selected venues this Spring, having catapulted in success at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, London’s Battersea Arts Centre and Melbourne’s The Arts House. This week, TESWL timely arrived at The Lowry, as part of Manchester’s ‘SICK! Festival’ which faces the physical, mental and social challenges of life and death and how we survive them – or don’t.
At the break, the divided audience swap seats to witness the other room’s traumatic version of the play when the performance resumes. In one room, there is a mother showing signs of psychosis, whilst her two sons – confused – glide in and out of the room to the other where a psychologist explains the concept of experiencing other people’s physical experiences, before talking to the mother’s eldest son.
There is an inspired poignancy to the way both rooms’ sounds filter through either side of the stage, as the overlapping dialogues are often erratic and frenzied, yet in parts audibly synched – word by word. Following the narrative, like piecing a psychotic patient’s fragmented thoughts together, is not easy even after moving to the other side to watch the second room replay its scenes. The bizarre nature of this performance leaves a lot open to interpretation.
“It was a fantastic but deeply confusing experience. I’m not sure if it [the play] was trying to create the experience of someone suffering from schizophrenia but I thought that was the case”, Aidan Donovan from Manchester told TNT after the show.
At the end of both sides’ strangely splintered and incoherent narratives, all four characters are somewhat part of the same world, yet still cleverly toying with the audience on who is unwell and who isn’t.
When asked about the challenges in bringing this show to the stage, Woods told TNT that there is a lot of “stigma with programming because of words like schizophrenia, psychosis and even the fear of the mention of knives” in dialogue. “It’s unfortunate that promoters will not put the show on because of this”, he added.
It’s curious that in our progressive world, mental health or rather what’s constructed to edify and encourage active aid for sufferers is still stigmatised and feared. The media’s inflamed focus on the handful of violent schizophrenic or psychotic offenders does not help matters either. Yes this show is thorny to watch but hugely necessary in its theatrical attempt to represent the disorienting experience of psychotic patients. At the end of the day, “Psychosis is not just hearing voices; it’s a global change of your world”, a psychiatrist told TNT after the show.
TNT News Yasin Chinembiri