Radical treatment, radical theatre
The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland – Ridiculusmus @ Battersea Arts Centre (Touring until March 2015)
For various reasons this review of The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland comes over a week after experiencing the production at the Battersea Arts Centre. Often, as a reviewer flits from theatre to theatre, trying to write a review after such a delay can be troublesome as images from different plays begin to blur together in the mind. This isn’t a problem for Ridiculusmus’ The Eradication…, which pulls of a coup de théâtre with their simple but brilliantly effective approach to staging.
In portraying a family being pulled apart by the spectre of mental illness, Ridiculusmus’ decision to split the audience in half, dividing the stage with a simple screen and performing two overlapping narratives, isn’t just a technical device to garner attention on the highly competitive fringe circuit but exists to act as a mechanism to enable the audience to step inside the fog of psychosis.
Creating a shared understanding is one of the big challenges to changing perceptions on mental illness. Most people have suffered injury or been physically ill at some point in their lives, and as a result they are able to draw on this experience, however limited, in order to shape their understanding and build a connection to those with a terminal disease or with a physical disability.
However if a person has never experienced a mental health illness then it is very difficult to associate with any description on the pressures on a fragile psyche, and in turn the best that can be offered is glib and often wildly inaccurate approximations.
Ridiculusmus’ approach to staging brings an audience about as close to the reality of mental illness as it is possible to get. Separated from half the on-stage action but with the dialogue bleeding through the divide – sometimes appearing to interlink with the scene you are watching, at times talking over it and on other occasions hearing it only as a background hum – it recreates, in the audience, the polyphonic chorus that accompanies many people entering schizophrenic psychosis.