Playwright and actor Isabelle Kabban was on her first year at university when her 62-year-old mother was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Until then, their relationship had been a challenging one, brimming with beautiful moments, but also painful incidents which could hardly receive a rational explanation.
Isabelle’s memories whilst growing up show all the love and care, as well as the unreasonable hatred and the bouts of rage that she’s had to endure throughout. As a child, she once observed her mother standing aside from a group of parents, unable to join the conversation. This was perhaps the first time she realised that her mother was different. Later in life, in one of the most awkward episodes, the unnamed parent suddenly threw a trifle at her best friend whilst at a family barbecue. Clearly, something wasn’t right all along. Yet many more difficult years would pass, with her mother becoming a threat to herself, before she was finally diagnosed.
These, and many more, images, narrated by Kabban in the first person, are intense, yet are let down by an undercooked interpretation. Momentous snippets of dialogue between mother and daughter lose their effect due to Ruth Anna Phillips’s hesitant direction. Neither the tone, nor the direction of the speech are characterised enough for us to make a clear distinction between interlocutors.
The song “No Problem” by Chase & Status accompanies some powerful movement sequences, which represent a necessary outlet for the character’s repressed feelings. The anxiety, the embarrassment, the sense of impotence are all concentrated in an obsessive fear of losing her mother. “How can I fix you?”, she insistently repeats in multiple stifling scenes which, after a while, become repetitive.
An odd soundscape lingers in the background throughout the performance. For a long time, I mistook it for a noise of machinery coming from the outside Pleasance Courtyard, before realising that it was intended to generate more tension.
Love (Watching Madness) deserves credit for shining a light over a rarely-spoken issue surrounding mental health. Even more so, because it offers a valuable opportunity to get first-hand insight. This production, however, requires a more decisive support from both direction and dramatisation.
Written and Performed by: Isabelle Kabban
Director: Ruth Anna Phillips
Producer: SpeakUp Theatre in association with The Actors Centre
Booking Information: This show has completed its current run.