‘Does the body rule the mind or does the mind rule the body?’ Morissey poses the question in The Smiths’ song of the same name as Kandinsky’s new show, Still Ill. The mind/body dichotomy is one of particular relevance in a show about Conversion Disorder, a medically unexplainable condition whereby people experience paralysis, blindness, and seizures. Conversion Disorder is also described as psychological stress manifesting in physical ways. Mind affects body, body reacts to mind. The dichotomy is bridged, even undone, and the relationship between the two becomes the thing to probe, to poke, and to unpick.
A company like Kandinsky seems up to the task, given that those last few verbs can be used to describe their work (perhaps also insert ‘fun’ after poke). They won the Best Ensemble Offie for their last show Dog Show, a clever and creative portrayal of dogs and their owners in Hampstead Heath. They’ve now moved from park theatre to operating theatre. Devised by the company and directed by James Yeatman, Still Ill follows aspiring actor Sophie (Joan Iyiola) who pays her dues in medical centres role-playing as a patient. During the filming of her big-break-BBC-one-medical soap as Miriam, she finds her hand inexplicably shut tight. Weaving through doctors, actors, actors-playing-doctors, filming, and treatment, Sophie’s realities blur and bend at the same rate as the mind/body relationship breaks down.
And so too does the audience experience. The first sequence immediately layers fiction and reality, warping the two so they fall into each other. A series of doctors, expertly caracaturised by Hamish MacDougall and Harriet Webb, learn bedside manner, repeat stock phrases, and test both Sophie’s and the audience’s reflexes as [we] whirl around the rotation, unsure of any steady ground to stand on. Yeatman continues to focus heavily on repetition, on framing, on selection and editing. Take after take, skype after skype, frame by frame, any critical semblance of reality begins to feel as alien as Sophie’s hand feels to her, an appendage made uncanny, strikingly similar but somehow different. The seemingly inevitable question begins to resonate as unsettlingly as Zac Gvirtzman’s score, yet the answer is Sophie’s to utter: ‘I’m not crazy’.
Iyiola, MacDougall, and Webb bring colour to their multiple characters in a carefully considered inquiry into a world of un-diagnosis. Inventive, cerebral yet approachable, and unexpectedly funny (particularly Webb), Still Ill’s only fault is that it stops just before its final probe. This production is an obviously a shorter version of the piece, and is left as a tantalising peek into a world of perimeters, psychology, and performance. More is to be discovered, if not diagnosed, and it is highly worth seeing where Still Ill will ultimately take us.
Still Ill was performed as part of Incoming Festival. For more information, click here.