Imagine for a moment, that you are ill. You experience muscle weakness, seizures, paralysis, blackouts and other symptoms. You know you are ill, but you’re continuously told there’s nothing physically wrong with you. Functional Neurological Disorder (FND) is an illness that bestows disabling symptoms on its sufferers, but has no physical cause. The brain functions incorrectly, as the patients Central Nervous System fails to send and receive messages properly. Still Ill explores this condition, through budding actress Sophie (Sophie Steer) a woman hit by FDN just as she lands her breakout role, and her brother Mark (Hamish Macdougall) as they navigate through the terrifyingly uncertain world of the undiagnosable.
Devised by the cast and based on scripted material by James Yeatman, Al Smith and Lauren Mooney, Still Ill is funny and light in places and even features a few ‘your mum’ jokes between the siblings. Macdougall is also amusing in one of his many roles as Sophie’s self-obsessed co-star, while Harriet Webb shines in various roles, becoming a variety of personas from nervous student doctor to abrupt and impatient director, and steals the show with her comic timing. Steer is consuming and likeable as Sophie, particularly as she wails along to The Smiths track of the same name as the play – asking ‘does the body rule the mind, or does the mind rule the body?’ Zac Gvirtzman has composed a tense edgy electronic score, performed live with the show. The set design is simple; the key prop being a basic hospital bed used cleverly throughout. As Sophie narrates a montage of her own life in the style of a TV script, we experience how tiring it can be searching for answers as she flies through doctor appointment after doctor appointment whilst Macdougall and Webb tip medical paraphernalia, including paper cups, plastic gloves, pills and blue paper towels onto the bed, creating a sort medical version of Tracy Emin’s My Bed, visually demonstrating the mess and chaos that FND can cause.
Kandinsky are known for presenting us wth exciting and inventive new work, and Still Ill certainly doesn’t disappoint. It is a thoughtful and stimulating play about a disease that is unsettling to think about. Also touching on deep rooted family issues, it is gentle and insightful without being too heavy, and explores the way illness and death can affect those we love and live with and those we leave behind.
Still Ill is playing at the New Diorama Theatre until 19 November. For more information and tickets, see New Diorama Theatre website.
Photo: David Monteith-Hodge