Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the subject of Ridiculusmus’s new show, Give Me Your Love, the second in a trilogy of productions by artistic directors and performers David Woods and Jon Haynes. Transferring from the Arts House in Melbourne, Australia, this is a topic with international resonance, especially given the increasing number of ex-servicemen now suffering from PTSD.
Zach is one such sufferer, and over the course of the play he wrestles with the idea of using experimental – and, in this case, illegal – drugs to remedy some of the severe symptoms he is experiencing as a result of his deployment to Iraq. The company deserves recognition just for putting these issues on stage and bringing the harrowing consequences of post-war trauma to light, something that they did after extensive research with bodies that include MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies).
Following on from last year’s success, The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland, the company have created a piece with, again, “the oxymoronic aim of being both serious and funny”. In both these respects, there is veritable success and failure on a night when it really didn’t help to be sat by a window through which the evening traffic never ceased trying to make itself heard.
Zach’s strange coping mechanism is his inability to come out of the large cardboard box that he has fastened over his upper body, which keeps his face concealed for the entire play. In a production where actors are either off stage, behind doors or inside cardboard boxes for the majority of the show, diction becomes even more important and I’m sure that many great lines and moments were missed on the night for this very reason. I assume this because there were many brilliant comic moments that I did hear that seemed to fall on deaf ears, or at least were met with undeserved silences.
War is an unnatural process for any human being to have to endure, and unfortunately it wreaks devastating, unnatural afflictions that cannot be bandaged up and cured simply with a ‘war hero’ badge or Remembrance Day parade. Woods and Haynes demonstrate the day-to-day, mundane nature of living with a disorder like PTSD. The juxtaposition of the complex, grave mental disorder and the simple, Welsh lad who suffers from it makes for some wonderful back-and-forth between Zach and wife, Carol, as well as with his friend Ieuan, who doubles up as his part-time drug dealer and therapist. Both Woods and Haynes show great empathy for the characters they embody and there is no moment where you doubt the sincerity of these two performers’ intentions. The funny moments are earned and while there are some issues with credibility over logistics (can Ieuan really not tell that Zach is in a box? Can Zach not just go and reach for the envelope instead of using the pulley system? etc.), the pair really do extract the maximum comedy possible from their purposely bare set (the only items in the whole room are a container of table salt and a roll of tape).
Jacob Williams’s set really is a character in itself and doesn’t stop adding to the atmosphere as the scenes go on. The brown-stained walls are reminiscent of the prison cells in Steve McQueen’s debut film Hunger, and this helps to add gravity to Zach’s lonely moments and heighten the comedy when he, for instance, mentions hearing about the experimental treatments “on CNN”. Marco Cher-Gibard’s sound is pulsating and disturbingly effective in its biggest moments, and the poignancy it adds to the scene when Zach’s MDMA finally kicks in took me quite by surprise. Richard Vabre’s faux-natural lighting allows a fluidity to the passing of time in the piece and lets the audience think on exactly how long Zach spends on his own, or indeed in his own head.
Though a few more performances are required to get this piece back into its best rhythm, I’ve no doubt that this is a show that will get a lot of love from its audiences for its empathy, levity and warmth.
Give Me Your Love is playing at the Battersea Arts Centre until 30 January. For more information and tickets, see the Battersea Arts Centre website.