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Review: Psychodrama, Battersea Arts Centre

On my way out to BAC, there’s a half-eaten sandwich on my doorstep. But my front door is at the end of a short internal corridor, making this an even stranger occurrence. Little did I know, the night is about to get much weirder! And I will be processing Psychodrama for days, weeks, to come, asking myself ‘did that really just happen, or have I OD’d on my medication’? The more I try to make sense of this production, the more questions I have. Even the content warning “the show will encourage you to imagine a lot of sex…

Summary

Rating

Excellent

One of the weirdest, wildest experiences I have had in a theatre for a very long time. Psychodrama is… oh, where to even begin?!

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On my way out to BAC, there’s a half-eaten sandwich on my doorstep. But my front door is at the end of a short internal corridor, making this an even stranger occurrence. Little did I know, the night is about to get much weirder! And I will be processing Psychodrama for days, weeks, to come, asking myself ‘did that really just happen, or have I OD’d on my medication’?

The more I try to make sense of this production, the more questions I have. Even the content warning “the show will encourage you to imagine a lot of sex and violence” cannot fully prepare you. And not even in my darkest imagination would I imagine taking a baseball bat to the Roadrunner’s skull (much to the dismay of the Coyote who feels his life now has no purpose with his nemesis gone). Nor could I imagine the sex scene that descends into utter depravity, as descriptions become more grotesque, ridiculous and physically impossible.

Additionally, for the most part everything is aural, via headphones, isolating us in a strange way from fellow audience members. It makes for a more personal experience, alone as we are in our head: except we are not alone, iara Solano Arana and Christopher Brett Bailey are in there with us. The pair speak softly into microphones, that softness at odds with the surreal scenes they describe. Why aurally? Maybe because our imagination can produce images far worse than can ever be replicated on stage. I doubt the image in my mind of Arana inserting a table leg so far inside Bailey’s backside during sex that he spits splinters would be achievable for real. At times they do visualise their stories, and much like our imagination, they are extreme in nature. Watching Arana on her back, legs akimbo, hips thrusting, whilst Bailey describes their lovemaking leaves us open-mouthed at the ridiculousness of it all.

Yet for all its horrors, its excessiveness, there lies – quite literally – a comical element throughout. They force us to imagine many of our favourite childhood cartoons, before inflicting violence and sex upon them. But then, wasn’t so much of that already present? Is this the show’s main message? That we are brought up on cartoons that depict violence as perfectly acceptable when done by the right people, against the wrong people. Except is it right? Are we from a young age subjected to much that desensitises us to real violence? It’s a well-trodden argument, at times used to explain the rise in knife crime, arguing that kids don’t realise that, unlike in cartoons and videogames, if you stab someone, they don’t always pop back up: that if you hit someone so hard with a baseball bat their bones turn to dust. Well, Tom might come back from that when Jerry does it, but a real person won’t! Beyond this simple message there is so much more happening in Psychodrama that I feel the need to watch all over again, just to try to make more sense of it; prove to myself it really did happen.

As I get home to that half-eaten sandwich, I’m assuming there’s a poltergeist. As for the show? It is swirling around in my head. The thought of a spirit inhabiting my flat feels quite serene in comparison to what I witnessed tonight at BAC. It is the latter that will keep me awake all night as I try to make sense of it all. Psychodrama shocks, it draws you in, it leaves you gobsmacked – if I were a cartoon character my eyes would be popping out like plates right now.

Written & Created by: Sleepwalk Collective & Christopher Brett Bailey 
Music & Sound Design by: Christopher Brett Bailey & Sammy Metcalfe 
Lighting by: Sammy Metcalfe 
Produced by: Beckie Darlington 

Psychodrama plays at Battersea Arts Centre until 9 April. Further information and bookings can be found here.

About Rob Warren

Someone once described Rob as "the left leaning arm of Everything Theatre" and it's a description he proudly accepted. It is also a description that explains many of his play choices, as he is most likely to be found at plays that try to say something about society. Willing though to give most things a watch, with the exception of anything immersive - he prefers to sit quietly at the back watching than taking part!
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