Sorcha McCaffrey’s solo show Ladybones is a darkly funny and deeply insightful look at living with OCD, based on the artist’s own experience.
Nuala is an archaeologist on a dig that unearths the bones of a young girl – a discovery that triggers an obsession and spirals her back into the OCD behaviours she has been struggling with. We follow her through therapy, breakdowns and breakthroughs – along the way negotiating sex and sexuality, flatmates, family and work, all with a purloined skull hidden in her backpack and a constant nagging narrative in her brain, telling her she is a weirdo.
McCaffrey is a tremendously engaging performer, and her Nuala is an empathetic and articulate narrator. The piece deftly explores the realities of OCD without becoming too bogged down by the diagnosis: Nuala’s story, like the person herself, is bigger than just the condition. Without ever turning into a medical lecture, it offers a strong sense of what OCD actually is – that it really isn’t just being very tidy or checking that you’ve turned the oven off, but an often-crippling wave of dark thoughts and fears and mental processes. The piece uses audience participation with varying degrees of success, but the moment when she utilises the whole audience to become her competing inner choruses is strikingly effective.
The production deserves praise, also, for the care with which it handles that audience participation. Too many shows – even those that deal with delicate mental health issues – are often slapdash in this regard, but as the audience file in, ‘Nuala’ introduces herself to people, and asks if they would be happy to join in: those who say they would are given a big, bright sticker. Can more people adopt this approach, please? It makes watching a show that makes quite extensive use of its audience a lot less stressful if you can relax in the knowledge that the performer will leave you alone.
Tightly directed by Lucia Cox, the piece manages to be both hard-hitting and surprisingly funny. Even at her darkest moments, Nuala finds both plenty of humour and, perhaps more surprisingly, real moments of joy in her life – in her wannabe actress sister, her well-meaning but overbearing mother, in a delightfully unexpected crush. Warm and sympathetic even in her worst moments, McCaffrey makes us genuinely care about Nuala, and, more importantly, see her as much more than the condition she suffers from. She is a fully-rounded person, a human being like the rest of us, albeit one with struggles that are far too commonly misunderstood – and it’s this that makes for such a powerful and ultimately moving piece of theatre.
Ladybones runs at the Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle until 21st February. It tours the UK until 7 June. More info here.