Pros: Brilliant cast, sustained rhythm and a clear script
Cons: Although the play is perfectly delivered, the theme is such that the show might seem a bit too long
Inside the New Diorama Theatre there are orange seats and a doctor’s bed at the centre of the stage. Harriet, a nurse, accompanies Sophie into the theatre, introduces the young woman to the audience, and then leaves her lying on the doctor’s bed. Still Ill takes as its subject mental illness, with all its associated testing regimes and therapies. It aims to show how mental dysfunction leads first to endless self-questioning, and ends up affecting all aspects of a person’s life, including their family relationships, often quite suddenly. With such subject matter, I was expecting a tough ride. However, the kick-off is rather humorous. Sophie is passed from the hands of one doctor to another, and then acts out a TV scene with her brother on a video call. We begin to see an overlap between fiction, in the shape of Sophie’s job, and non-fiction in the shape of her real life, disease and symptoms.
Three screens are positioned in a triangle around the space; they represent a computer screen, the x-ray plate support, the kitchen table, a TV, the camera display, and Sophie’s mirror. Great use of multimedia, which allows us to enter a dimension beyond the theatre walls. In addition to this, the music and sound design fit perfectly and support the narrative; I particularly noticed Sophie’s loud breath filling the theatre as she attempted to move freely around the room
The tension on the stage increases as the story goes on, and we see the main character struggling with unexpected symptoms, suffering from an illness that is not easy to explain. Nothing is wrong, and yet gradually nothing in Sophie’s body is working properly. There is nothing wrong with her at the physical level, so the disturbing source of all her pains must her head. The cure is not to be found in the neurology ward, but in the psychiatric one. The growing tension is broken just towards the end, with a couple of light-entertainment scenes. These are quite unexpected but perfectly placed to turn a page, move away from the hospital wards and Sophie’s house, and let all of us breathe for a second.
The action moves along smoothly, and I particularly appreciated the perfect coordination among the actors. The sustained rhythm is a winning element, and the devised origin of the script partly explains the performers’ natural and dynamic collaboration on the stage. The play uses no complicated medical terms or therapeutic jargon; like the costumes, the language is clear and ordinary, not too elaborate. “I am just still ill” is Sophie’s line in one of the opening scenes. ‘Still ill’, with no further explanation and no extra label for the disease. Two simple words that encapsulate the drama of the unexplained glitch in the body, or in the mind?
This is a production with a bit of humour, lively characters, and a perfectly measured script. There is nothing depressing about this drama, just a brilliant challenge to the distance we put between ourselves and the “insane”.
Author: Devised by the cast, based on scripted material by James Yeatman, Al Smith and Lauren Mooney
Director: James Yeatman
Producer: Lauren Mooney
Box Office: 020 7383 9034
Booking Link: http://newdiorama.com/whats-on/still-ill
Booking Until: 19 November 2016