Ridiculusmus’s multi-faceted production of The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland takes place in a beautiful but challenging room in the Battersea Arts Centre, a challenge met by taking the sizable oblong space and chopping it right down the middle. Split into two ‘rooms’, separated by set and a thick stage curtain, the audience are greeted upon entrance by stark linen views and a sonorous track interjected by frogs. Lulled into a false sense of security, what happens next is surprising, as in turns I found myself thoroughly frustrated and then delighted by the unravelling scenes.
The cast, collaborators, and crew, working together as a creative unit under the helm of artistic directors David Woods and John Haynes, have delved into research surrounding ‘Open Dialogue’, a method of treatment that, as the play title clearly states, practically eradicated schizophrenia in Western Lapland. The purpose of such an undertaking was in part to ‘de-stigmatise and normalise psychosis’. Instead of presenting their delving on a naturalistic platter for its audience, the form of this piece is playful, drawing the audience into a deep place of empathy. I liked the light and the dark contrasts in this performance, displayed particularly well in striking turns by Patrizia Paolini, and also when the cast stepped out of isolation and into each other’s company.
The audience is teased by snippets of conversation from across the partition. Sometimes this merged pleasingly with the scenes playing out directly before us, simultaneously engaging us with the action at hand and tickling our curiosity of what was happening over the wall. Sometimes the dialogue crashed and clanged together making uncomfortable sections that were very much intentional and served their purpose well. Such a trick would have eventually have become cumbersome, but running in two snappy half hour segments the audience could persevere.
The second half was what sold the piece to me. I had hoped that some, not all, of this puzzling play would explain itself and just the right amount was. I particularly enjoyed a semi-conscious diagnosis, by a doctor no less, of what the play was illuminating about our own sense of ‘self’ – complete with handy diagram echoing the stage and seating design! Self-awareness was felt by actors, audience and even the play text itself in amongst the muddle. As expected it was these moments of clarity that brought the most pleasure to this piece, pleasure that was heightened by otherwise incredibly complex interwoven dialogue. I hope the same was experienced by our doppelganger audience on the other side of the partition; the lasting frustration of the play is that I will never know.
The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland is playing Battersea Arts Centre until 14 February. For more information and tickets, see the Battersea Arts Centre website. Photo by Richard Davenport.