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Rogueplay’s Thrash is head-spinning audio-poetry which sets its audience in an echoing underworld where cries of help ring in your ears, “I’m not here. I’m not a person. I’m pain.” It is dark and consuming without a hint of sugar-coating as you fall into the mind of someone experiencing a severe mental health crisis.
There’s an admirable rawness to this show, in contrast to the recurring, digestible pseudo-depression that haunts our media. Anyone can easily advocate for mental health until suicidal thoughts and sectioning are mentioned, which is why light on the more uncomfortable topics is so important. Yet I am lost in the discussion points of this piece. Commentary on the failures of mindfulness is by no means a groundbreaking item in terms of psychological discourse. Immersing your audience into an unsettled mind generates immense opportunity for empathetic discussion. Thrash instead re-explains the Fight, Flight or Freeze response like a school nurse’s leaflet.
While this piece is clearly well intentioned, I do not feel the experience is adequately accessible to neurodivergent people. I find there’s something inherently disproportionate in overstimulating representation of mental illness. The language is also enormously triggering beyond the extent necessary to adequately portray a mental health crisis. Vivid references to self-injury accomplish nothing but shock.
The piece is also troubled by insensitive comparisons. A voice from the darkness chants, ‘Clean Cups! Clean Cups!’ Alice in Wonderland as a parallel for mental illness is an exhausted motif which neurodivergent people are sick of seeing everywhere. When you’re battling a debilitating condition, being likened to a children’s novel-character is frankly offensive. We have to be more careful with the words we choose to describe people with mental health issues. We cannot afford to isolate those who are in crisis with words like, ‘Crazy’ or ‘Mad’.
Shakespeare’s texts are a motif for illness with Macbeth as a key player. There’s nothing like using Early Modern medicine to engage in discussions of a dangerous and rising epidemic. This slips up forces the work into the realms of dark romanticisation where suicide is a useful plot device for tying off loose ends. We should be striving to normalise experiences – not sensationalise them. Read the WHO guidelines for presenting suicide in media and leave Romeo and Juliet behind.
As creators, we must use theatre to have a meaningful conversation about the prevalent issues we give exposure to: Thrash falls short in delivering a constructive experience.
Thrash is playing online until 17th Jan. For more information and tickets, see Living Record Festival’s website on Zarucchi.