Edinburgh Fringe 2014
The first of a trilogy of work to be developed over the next five years focusing on mental health, The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland is an investigation of auditory hallucination through the lens of one family’s experience of psychosis.
Scenes of family psychosis are played out simultaneously in adjoining rooms, conjuring the experience of auditory hallucination. A new work informed by a treatment method that has virtually eradicated schizophrenia in Western Lapland.
The first of a trilogy of work to be developed over the next five years focusing on mental health, The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland is an investigation of auditory hallucination through the lens of one family’s experience of psychosis. The audience is immersed in this recreation through an ambitious split staging arrangement: the action and dialogue from two different sequences of scenes are simultaneously performed to two different groups of audience in the same space.
The creators, Jon Haynes and David Woods, of Ridiculusmus have had a long association with mental illness with personal experience of treatment and caring between them. These experiences have informed the work they have made together over twenty-one years, such as the 1999 piece Yes, Yes, Yes (winner of both a Herald Angel Award and a Total Theatre Award).
Although the title sounds like something alternative theatre companies dream up to get noticed at Edinburgh the origins of the play lie in a way of working in Finnish Western Lapland that has virtually eradicated schizophrenia. It uses a dialogical approach to therapy inspired by the Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin – its guiding principles include tolerating uncertainty and allowing a polyphony of voices in the treatment process. It is not an easy approach for us to consider in our society which tends to see things in polarised ways and doesn’t like uncertainty.
The two spaces are separated by the wall that defines each; one character, Richard, moves constantly between the two, the other three occasionally visit the other space or appear briefly in the doorway. At times the text of one interrupts or provokes a response from the other. During a brief interval it is the audience who change perspective rather than the set being changed by moving to the other bank of seating. We then see the play we only heard fragments of in the first half. This adds to the sense of being in a disrupted world as it reminds us how easily we settle into a particular view of the stage in front of us.
The cast of four, including Haynes and Woods, deliver a well-paced, highly polished performance with very crisp delivery – essential in a play that for much of the time does not make sense in traditional ways.
It is incredibly difficult to describe the experience of watching this. Two different plays taking place simultaneously in different spaces, different times but with the same characters, although even that isn’t quite clear as our early assumptions about who each one each and their role in the family and story is challenged as the plays progress.
As reviewers we have only words to use, words that we have to arrange in a coherent order to convey our views and the experience. But this is an experience of words that defies neat description and in some ways to try and do so would be to reduce the experience of watching The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland to something meaningless. Watching is to lose yourself in the multi layered, overlapping, at times confusing text but always with a sense that every word is there for a purpose, for all the apparent confusion there is nothing that feels wasted or unintentional.
The script is layered, complex, startling, unpredictable, fragmentary; at one point we even find ourselves within the writing of the play we are watching.
It definitely helps to read the programme and to hand it out to the queue rather than waiting until we are entering the space would give a little more time to grasp something of the context. And in this piece schizophrenia isn’t eradicated, we are draw into the experience of it.
Overall it is a fascinating and challenging insight and I, for one, look forward to the rest of the trilogy as it is developed.