Edinburgh Fringe 2011
On the tiny stage at the rear of the Valvona & Crolla delicatessen Mike Maran downs glass after glass of whiskey and weaves a tale of his encounters with and the life of the renowned Scottish anti-psychiatrist and drinker R D Laing, accompanied on piano by David Milligan.
Author of a number of cult pop-psychiatry books, including The Divided Self (beloved by many a teenager lured by a romantic notion of madness in the 60s and 70s, including myself) Laing’s ideas turned the psychiatric world on its head before eventually falling out of fashion in the 80s as liberalism gave way to the mean-spirited world in which we now live.
In a nutshell, Laing argued that many patients labelled schizophrenic had not broken down, but broken through to a fuller realisation of their true selves, and that treating them with drugs, ECT or lobotomies was a violation of their rights to live as they really were. He asked "how come the whole of psychiatry appears to be doing the opposite of what it is supposed to be doing" and went further, asserting that to be normal was actually insane.
Judging by the audience I suppose you have to already be acquainted with R D Laing, at least by name, or to have a broad interested in psychiatry to even want to come to see Did you used to be R D Laing? – which is a pity, because it is a well-spent, educating, challenging and enchanting experience.
Maran’s presence at the beginning is like that of some old time raconteur from the days before the stand-up explosion, like a more serious Dave Allen, nursing his Old Grouse as he gently plays with your mind. His rambles a bit, the episodes tumbling forth in a stream of amusing anecdotes which loosely follow the chronology of Laing’s career.
Clearly a labour of love, Maran’s love for his subject is infectious, and you may well, like me, leave this show with the CD (including script booklet) in hand and head straight for youtube to try to find videos of Laing standing silently before an audience for 45 minutes, as his career, but not his mind, crashed in an alcoholic haze.
I don’t want to completely spoil the genius of Maran’s performance, but 47 minutes in I was seriously worried that the boundary of theatre and reality was becoming increasingly slurred. My notebook has these words writ large: "Is this an act?"
Here’s a couple more quotes from my notes:
"Therapy’s a greek word – it means to listen. You do it with your ears"
"The audience never knew if they were being faced by a guru or by a t——– d—- or both."
It wasn’t until the end that I realised that what I had just witnessed was really far more than just a jazzed-up narrative – it was a quite brilliant piece of theatre. Perhaps, like R D Laing, it was just a little too brilliant for it’s own good.