Subdural Hematoma, a term I was admittedly unaware of until last night, is a serious brain condition wherein, ‘Blood collects between the skull and the surface of the brain’ (Thanks Google!) We quickly learn that Eleanor May Blackburn, our female protagonist, was involved in an incident and wound up with a right-sided subdural hematoma. Part of Greater Manchester Fringe, this piece is a brave and heroic must-see.
When we meet Eleanor, or Ellie, or Elle, or Smelly Ellie, or Elles, we immediately peg her as the bubbly and vivacious type. We do not, however, expect such a harrowing tale to be told with such absolute enterprise. The show uses mask, comedy, voiceover and dance to provide us with a genuine account of her experience while she was in a coma and through her entire process of recovery. This is an autobiographical piece, which makes the audience feel evermore conflicted on whether to laugh at the comedic moments. It almost feels wrong when it’s at her expense, even when laughing with her. Yet this is the blurred line between tragedy and comedy that makes for such an authentic and captivating gig.
There are frequent moments of narration via voiceover wherein her mother reads out diary entries from that time. They are candid and most likely verbatim, making this story even more powerful. Along with her mother’s voice, there is also other survivors of right-sided subdural hematoma brain injuries who give their accounts of life during and after recovery. These survivors, along with Blackburn, answer questions like, ‘How did the condition impact your life?’ Their responses are impactful. One that sticks with me is her comment on how she is the lucky one because her family and friends are hurting a lot more than her – a truly humbling notion.
A tool I find rather educational in the piece is the Google definitions she gives us of medical jargon. For example, she defines CT scans, her condition and a plethora of the surgeries she has undergone. She delivers these definitions in an RP accent, making this process of learning more humorous. She often uses wit to ease the seriousness of the topic, but our laughter is quick to cease when we remember that this incident could have resulted in Blackburn’s death. The way she sustains such a high-quality performance on her own, willing to retell her own harrowing story is inspirational. She stands there, alone, using simple endorsements, and telling her own story fearlessly. The mask is a clever emblem of her spiritual persona fighting to regain strength over her physical body.
The show really provides me with perspective; it is an epiphanic moment. It’s largely philosophical; starting as a conversation. I realise how much I take normal day-to-day tasks for granted such as brushing my teeth, putting on make-up and taking myself to the loo. It’s a reminder to change the narrative and see life as a bunch of things that you get to do rather than have to do. I leave the show enlightened, and able to pronounce subdural hematoma- win-win.
Subdural Hematoma is playing at Salford Arts Theatre until 3rd September 2021. For more information and tickets, see The Salford Arts Theatre Website.