Nomad is a screamingly raw portrayal of institutionalisation and homelessness – delivered straight from a soul with direct experience.
Nell Hardy monologues of desperately grappling with one’s own capacity to harm, blaming herself for the cumulative trauma which has derailed her life. Deep in the sea of poorly understood, half-hearted media depictions of mental health disorders, Hardy’s heartbreakingly honest portrayal radiates truth and desperation.
From the onset, Hardy traps you in a poetic swarm of swallowing semantics and cycles of repetition – this is by no means a comfortable watch. You’re entangled in a brain battling dissociation, depersonalisation and derealisation. As our Nomad protagonist tells a story about the humiliation of pissing in public, she recounts her miserable thoughts: “I haven’t felt that alive except in my nightmares for weeks and weeks now.”
It strikes right at the core with each downpour of rain and you feel as if you too are sitting in soaking clothes, as you’re reminded of the privilege to be sheltered. The soundscape burrows into you with high pitched rings and deep drones which reverberate through the screen. Hardy works inventively with five padded chairs and an empty space. As we follow her couch-surfing, or pacing city streets, we are blinded by the total dehumanisation which accompanies labelling a person as “insane”. She is terrified in thinking she exudes destruction; a sobering reminder of the guilt which weighs upon severely mentally ill people.
Hardy shatters our perceptions of homelessness and shows us how incorrect we truly are. We watch her fall through cracks in the system and crash through loopholes which leave millions of people in abject poverty and absolute desperation. It is incomprehensible for many of us to imagine what it is like to have absolutely nowhere to go – so Hardy self-identifies as a Nomad in a rejection of the system who continues to fail her.
We watch extreme weather conditions break down the human body. Hardy falls away, anatomising the human form, until it is reduced to the tactility of wet and dry; hungry and thirsty. The disorienting effects of rough-sleeping and sofa-hopping totally destabilize our protagonist, and by extension ourselves. I’ve never felt so nauseous watching something in my own front room – Hardy does not feed you sugar-coated drama with polished patients. We share her memory blanks and intrusive thoughts which accompany an insurmountably troubled life.
Nomad broke me for a multitude of reasons. Here lies an outcry against our shambolic mental health system which continues to fail us. What Hardy extenuates is the social-state of poverty which accompanies homelessness and how a duty of care does not equate genuine care. We are guided to mental health services who will turn you away with a leaflet or check boxes, rather than adopt a humanised approach to your needs. This clinical nightmare leaves neglected patients in a perpetual state of guilt for living in an NHS bed, or out in the streets in the elements.
Regardless of the technical difficulties, which make for a rocky viewer experience, (YouTube live may not be the most theatre-friendly medium) Hardy speaks through the camera, directly at you. The writing is too important to be overshadowed by lag and pixelation. Go and listen to the story she speaks – it will change you.
Nomad played online on the 27th November. For more information and tickets, see the Greenwich Theatre website.