A play within a play is nothing new. But how about four plays within a play that are each simultaneously the individual fantasies of the four characters? That may not sound like it makes much sense, but the great joy of watching Ridiculusmus’s show is the constant feeling of bamboozlement, of trying to work out what on earth is going on, of being immersed into a sensory maze.
Half of the audience sits on one side of a wooden wall, the other half on the other. The two halves cannot see each other – there are blinds and net curtains covering the windows. A central doorway connects the two halves. And a different play is performed on either side of the wall. It is unsettling to hear a muffled show that we cannot see.
One man seems to be a doctor leading a psychotherapy session. His patient claims he is about to win the Nobel prize for literature – and possibly for peace too. A woman fights with her son and husband, a man plays on his PSP. There is humour, there is banality in the conversations. Dracula and a toilet roll cover called Betty are among the subjects covered. They would be silly and whimsical were it not for the fact that they are the product of “the disarmingly ordinary chaos of psychosis”, as Ridiculusmus describes it.
None of the actors is particularly natural, there seems to be something stilted about the way they are performing and it takes a while to work out why: there are long pauses in the conversations they are having, as if they are distracted by voices somewhere in the next room. Which, of course, they are. The doctor seems sad, he speaks in a tired, quiet way as if he has a headache, a headache that a constant soundtrack of voices, sometimes whispering and sometimes shouting, is bound to induce.
The set is like a membrane, as the actors occasionally switch between the rooms, disappearing into the performance on the other side. Which of these characters is the ‘real’ one? Which are the hallucinations? Well, all four characters are real and all four are also the hallucinations of the other characters. Their fantasies interlock in a complex nexus of structural brilliance, so that each of the performers is the protagonist of their own story, while simultaneously taking part in the stories of the others.
Writers Jon Haynes and David Woods, drawing inspiration from the ‘Open Dialogue’ method of dealing with schizophrenia, have created a perplexing piece of theatre that baffles and confounds with precision and structural flair.
The Eradication Of Schizophrenia In Western Lapland is at Summerhall (Venue 26) until 24 August. For more information and tickets visit the EdFringe website.