Pros: Plays with the viewer experience in ways that bring some of the issues to life.
Cons: Offers many more questions than answers.
The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland, by Ridiculusmus, starts at the foot of Battersea Arts Centre’s glorious marble staircase. Here, the audience is divided into two, with one half being directed up the left hand flight, and the other half up the right hand flight. This separation continues in the auditorium, where a black curtain keeps the two halves of the audience in isolation, and a wooden screen cuts the stage in half.
When the performance started, the scene on ‘my’ half of the stage was a psychiatrist’s treatment room. Although I could not see the other half of the stage, I could hear some sort of family drama playing out simultaneously, beyond the screen. It was disconcerting and frustrating to have to listen to multiple, often overlapping voices, while only having sight of half the action. But clearly, that was the point, in a show whose dominant theme was psychosis. The portrayal of mental illness was, to these untrained eyes at least, sensitive and understated, despite also providing much of the show’s humour. Jon Haynes gave a great performance as the prim but delusional patient, while everything about the mother, played by Patrizia Paolini, felt suitably off-kilter. At the start of the show it seemed pretty clear who was ‘mad’ and who was not, but gradually it became apparent that all the characters were battling their own demons. So when we learnt of the doctor in Western Lapland who defined schizophrenia as ‘making meaning’, and refused to medicate it away, the implication was obvious: sanity is a spectrum. The other main theme was family and relationships. A son complained that his childhood bedroom had been turned into a yoga room; a husband wanted a divorce; brothers bickered about the loo. That much, I got. But the family set-up was deliberately ambiguous, and it was impossible to judge whose version of events was the truth, or how much of what we saw was real, and how much imagined.
After the interval, the audience swapped sides, so we could each watch what we had previously only been able to hear. This nicely reinforced the play’s point about individual experience versus shared experience. We in the ‘red’ half of the audience had watched the doctor scene, followed by the family scene, and could never know how it felt for the ‘white’ half of the audience to have had the opposite experience. Indeed, symbolism was not in short supply here. While some of it – the partition, for example – was unmistakeable, there were other elements in the production that might or might not have been important. I have yet to make any meaning out of the sound of crickets that played as we entered the auditorium. It may have been a completely arbitrary choice, yet my sense was that every aspect of the production had been chosen for a reason. Whilst it did not offer any answers, or explore any aspect of mental health treatment in depth, this show was clearly the product of extensive research and considerable insight.
I can’t say I completely understood The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland. But I did enjoy it. It made me laugh, it educated a little, and it kept me thinking long after I left the theatre. In truth, I didn’t really mind not understanding it; I just wanted not to be the only one who didn’t.
Created by: David Woods & Jon Haynes
Booking Until: 18th October
Box Office: 020 7223 2223
Booking Link: https://www.bac.org.uk/content/33635/see_whats_on/shows/shows/the_eradication_of_schizophrenia_in_western_lapland