Pros: Highly intelligent writing and directing. This piece genuinely takes you into a land where you have nothing to hold on to.
Cons: To understand the piece, you need to read the program, and in my case, several times. Perhaps you’re smarter than me, but I feel all the necessary context needs to happen within performance and this production doesn’t offer that.
If you like your hand held when going to the theatre, this show is not for you. The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland is a stimulating, confusing unfolding of events where the audience hear two performances at the same time and swap seats half way through. The aim is to introduce people to the experience of schizophrenia.
This is a clever approach. It allows you to empathise with people who experience the world in such a radically different way it can be hard to find anything to relate to. It is an open door to understanding, which is the first step to removing the stigma around the condition. This is Ridiculusmus’ stated aim, and they are very successful.
It isn’t always a fun experience, but then it never claims to be. It is highly confusing, but then I feel that this is the point. Four superb actors interact over a set you can see and one you can’t. There are multiple times, places, characters all of which achieve synergy and slip into disparity. It follows the story of a mother and son, both of which I assume have the condition (it is never mentioned) and opens a portal into their life, their relationships and a dire turn of events.
The set is as nimble as the dialogue. It allows a split audience to see certain things but not others, it masks and reveals in a tantalising fashion. The DIY-look costumes assist this and the weirder they get, the more disturbance they manage to imbue.
There are some marvellously funny sections, mostly led by Patrizia Paolini, and many downright disturbing ones, all blended together. We humans like narrative and consistency and this performance breaks many theatrical conventions to achieve a wormhole through which anyone can pass. An example of this is one actor playing two characters, yet barely changing anything to differentiate between to two – one minute he’s saying he’s twelve, the next he’s asking his son to obey his mother. Reality is broken apart.
Whilst this play is very successful in achieving its aim, it fails to signpost to give sufficient context to the confusion. No one ensured I picked up the program (I nearly didn’t) and here only is the landscape and ambition of the work explained. Luckily the venue was bright enough for me to read it easily during the performance – and I needed to several times. If I hadn’t reread my program I wonder if I would have walked out with a jumble of erroneous ideas from a jumble of senseless actions. There is power in this – but it negates the stated aim of the play.
I can see how giving too much context within the body of the play may ruin the adept writing and absurdist naturalism, but a short verbal explanation at the start or the insistence people receive and pay attention to the program would have sufficed without destroying the spirit.
The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland is well worth seeing, but do treat it like a performed academic paper with the program as the abstract.
Written and Directed by: Jon Haynes & David Woods
Produced by: Ridiculusmus, Joanna Ridout, Clara Giraud and Natalie Clarke
Book Until: The performances in Shoreditch Town Hall have now finished, but the tour continues in Scarborough, Falmouth and Grampound.
Booking Link: http://www.ridiculusmus.com/shows/on-tour/eradication-schizophrenia-western-lapland/