Review: The Expert View, Queen Mary University of London

Performance artist Bobby Baker and Daily Life Ltd host The Expert View, a two-day micro festival dealing with mental health. Daily Life Ltd is an arts and mental health charity based in Stratford, and Bobby Baker is a performance artist who is an ‘expert by experience’ of the mental health system. Together they host a festival that is powerful, eye-opening and, ultimately, positive. On the first day of the festival I had the privilege to see Laura Jane Dean’s piece This Room and Selina Thompson’s performance, Stilton Mash.

In This Room, Dean uses her own experience of obsessive-compulsive disorder to challenge the line between the healthy and the ill mind. She starts her show as an audience plant, making her less of a performer and more like one of us – any of us. Throughout her piece she continues to ask questions from her audience, whether we perform any actions that are associated with OCD. Her piece is built up in a very controlled manner, and her use of lights that slowly form the walls of a room around her and the sound design of whispering voices help her to build an incredibly raw tension, leading her to the point where she talks about the time her therapist asked her to put a pair of tights around her neck, something she fears the most. We sit silently and wait for this suspense to turn into some form of action, but Dean does not give us this relief; her piece solely consists of words, and that is why it is so powerful and effective.

Thompson’s Stilton Mash has a completely different tone. We see a red table and multiple boxes, and I am already intrigued. Thompson tells us that when she was young, her father would post her small presents to make her happy. Opening mail became a symbol of joy and a form of self-care, which is what Stilton Mash is all about: caring for yourself. Thompson starts opening the boxes, and we learn that she is making us sangria and guacamole. While doing so, she talks about her struggle with mental health, about her life at university, about race, gender, and, most importantly, the different ways of self-care. Her conversational piece is intimate and genuine; it was originally a one-to-one performance, but even when she is talking to a whole audience her tone does not become any less personal. Her honesty and openness makes the piece’s dark themes positive and uplifting, while the preparation of the meal gives her a solid structure, which ends with all of us eating guacamole and sipping on sangrias. Thompson works with a certain simplicity and integrity, which makes us fully immersed and interested in her life story, making Stilton Mash impossible to not love.

The Expert View played Queen Mary University of London. For more information, see The Daily Life Ltd website.