Three performers, wearing brightly coloured tracksuits and Day-Glo balaclavas, clamber over scaffolding that is part prison, part climbing frame. They dance. Are they having fun or are they trying to escape? They start to tell us the story of Max, a character who never appears onstage. Max has been taken to a police station over a sandwich. Well, for smashing a café window with a chair after being given the wrong sandwich. Max’s behaviour is erratic. They are contemplating whether to stage an intervention and, if so, how.
Passengers, a new play by Kit Redstone, explores Dissociative Identity Disorder (previously known as multiple personality disorder), drawing on his own experience of the condition. The characters live inside Max’s head and, over the course of the performance, their personalities gradually emerge. There is the one, played by Jessica Clark, who looks after them all but also makes them feel like crap by shaming them for their behaviour. There is the impulsive one, played by Kit Redstone, who lashes out in anger. There is the dreamer, played by Neil Chinneck, who waxes lyrical but never writes and comes up with grandiose plans for the future. They fight for control over the narrative and for control over Max’s mind.
Jessica Edwards’ production is playful and unexpected. Edwards makes the most of Alberta Jones’ evocative set design to create a number of strong images to physicalise the mental impact of Max’s condition. For example, Clark’s character lies down on a high platform and runs on the spot, while Chinneck’s character hurls solutions at her to deal with the feelings of shame that escalate from drinking to block things out to full scale heroin addiction. The play captures just how exhausting it must be to live in Max’s head. Clark’s character indicts Max in a court room scenario for the ‘murder of his relationships’, forcing the other performers to recount in painful detail what actually happened in the break up with his girlfriend, rather than the romantic story they have concocted to salve his ego.
Despite the serious repercussions the condition is shown to have on Max’s life, Passengers remains light-hearted. The performers bounce off each other and the set with the energy of children’s television characters. There are, the play reveals, positive aspects to having lots of different versions of yourself. The play aims to destigmatise the condition and makes it relatable to the experiences of neurotypical audience members; it never pathologises and avoids simplistic trajectories of cure and recovery that can bedevil narratives about mental illness. The trauma that Dissociative Identity Disorder is thought to result from is hinted at in the powerful recurring image of a massive, hairy hand. The recorded interviews (with Max? with Redstone?) that start and end the show give tantalising insight into what it is like to live with DID. However, in the effort to make Max’s experience relatable, the play risks sacrificing specificity; Dissociative Identity Disorder is only mentioned in the press release, rather than in the show itself. Ultimately though, Passengers is an inventive and surprising insight into someone else’s mind.
Passengers is on at Summerhall till 25th August. More info here.