The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland

Tue 10th – Sat 14th May 2016

reviews

Clare Cavenagh

at 21:26 on 11th May 2016

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The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland is, as it title suggests, a highly complex, at times convoluted, and perhaps even slightly obscure play. Although highly engaging to watch, I often felt as though I was missing something in the play, like it was smarter than me, doing things I wasn't on to. Perhaps this was a shortcoming in the viewer, but it is fair to say that The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland is not a play you can sit back on your laurels and enjoy. It places large demands on the audience, but there are rewards for engaging with it.

The audience entered the Corpus Playroom to see a stage divided diagonally by a two-piece sliding wall, obscuring most of the opposite side, although a window and door cut in this division made it possible to catch glimpses of the action on the other side. When the play began, it seemed almost as though two shows were happening at once, pressed against one another. On one side of the division, there was cheery wallpaper, a table, chairs, a sideboard and a kettle, on the other a sedate and clinical white wall with two businesslike chairs, a bookshelf and a whiteboard. The homey, wallpapered space was initially a scene of slightly eccentric domesticity. A family discuss dinner, one another, and occasionally break out into an argument. On the other side of the wall, a psychotherapist talks in measured and practised tones about his method, and commences a session.

Jerome Burelbach as the doctor was excellent in his measured, professional scenes, but seemed to manage less well with more heightened moments of emotion which were called for as the scene progressed. He was permanently relegated to his office side of the stage, conversing sometimes with the audience, and sometimes with Richard, played magnificently by Gus Mitchell. As the only character able to properly interact on both sides of the barrier, I suspected that it was Richard's therapy we were witnessing, the barrier separating the reality of his therapy from the inner chatter and hallucinations represented by the other side of the room (although of course, with the scenes flipped around, it would perhaps seem as though the doctor were a hallucination rather than the family). In this capacity, Mitchell did a wonderful job - he was erudite and articulate, but at the same time unnerving, moving quickly, using exaggerated gestures, and raising his voice. In the home, Dolores Carbonari played a wonderfully loveable, yet at the same time vulnerable mother, who over the course of the scene descended into problems of her own. She was joined by Jasmine Rees playing Richard's younger brother Rupert, skilfully balancing the light-hearted sibling arguments of the opening with the more serious emotions of the later parts of the scene.

This divided stage was then opened up into one, and a kind of flashback to the time before the division was shown. This shed some light on what had been going on in the divided universe, and introduced two new characters, the father of the children, played in an intriguing piece of doubling by the sometime psychotherapist Jerome Burlebach, and his new wife, played very sympathetically by Laura Pujos. Pujos managed to be off-kilter enough to look at home in this atypical family, but also admirably chipper and identifiable in the face of the difficulties they then put her through.

The third section of the play returns to the opening scenario, the stage divided, and performs in once again, completely unchanged, but this time with the halves flipped around, so that the audience can see the scenario they missed originally. This perhaps serves to call into question the validity of both sides: it is impossible to say which is real, and which is simply background noise polluting the other. On the other hand, it's possible that the piece may have been more effective leaving the division in place, with each wing of the audience merely viewing one half.

I'm not quite sure if I completely got The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland, and I'm not quite sure if it was my fault or not. Regardless, this is an incredibly thought-provoking production, featuring a highly capable cast, and set design which makes it look like the Corpus Playroom was built for this script (no mean feat!). Highly experimental, and debatably successful, the only way to get a true sense of it would be to go and see it yourself.

Editor's note: the opening night performance The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland was cut short by a power outage at the Playroom. This reviewer was written by a reviewer who attended only the second performance, not having seen the half-performance of the opening night.

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