The latest transmission from Ridiculusmus is in, and it’s as dense and audacious as it is vital. A family drama and a meditation on schizophrenia collapsing simultaneously in on one another. There is no roadmap to guide the audience through their experience of the play, and no sense that the company’s process of development has culminated – instead there is trying and failing, trying and succeeding, trying and succeeding in being rather trying, and everywhere dialogue, contradiction and contemplation.
The audience is divided in two, and positioned at either side of a partition. One side presents the interior of a house, and behind its curtained windows the other side is a psychiatric ward. Two sections of the play run concurrently, with characters stepping in and out of their scene and into the other, and dialogue synching into parallel or reflecting at strange angles like theatre overhearing itself.
Its surface is smartly suggestive of psychotic experience: we hear voices we half-recognise but can’t understand; we suspect something is going on without our knowledge or consent; our sense of existing within a coherent community is disrupted; time slips, slides and folds in on itself. After the interval, when the audience switches sides and the play appears to begin again, it obtusely refuses to, as if gaps have unnervingly opened in our memories.
The family drama is extremely funny and often heartbreaking, the pressures that mental illness can exert across multiple generations are rendered with those touches of ‘serious laughter’ which Ridiculusmus have made their calling card. Patrizia Paolini is notably brilliant as Mum, whose own schizophrenia is doomed to recur in her son Richard. Conversations which toss discussions of food preferences in with threats of violent machete-murder are absurd but harrowingly real. Imagery becomes increasingly obtuse, until the final act in which the family becomes sort of Jungian archetypes or visitors from Richard’s psychosis. Bulls, Adolf Hitler, chintzy toilet roll holders – chunks of a mind cast adrift that wash back in in newly threatening dimensions.
Behind all this, Haynes and Woods are staging a number of discussions. There’s a plea for wider understanding of illnesses such as schizophrenia, of the vicious capitalism of drug cartels which suppress so-called ‘talking’ therapies in favour of pushing their medication, of the power of dialogue to pry open and to heal.
There’s also a brilliantly staged discussion of what theatre is, and what it means to be an audience member. When the Doctor character quotes R D Laing’s Politics of Experience, ‘Your experience of me is not inside you./My experience of you is invisible to you./I cannot experience your experience./You cannot experience my experience’, within the context of this fragmented, asymmetrical production, it’s a reminder that all experiences of theatre are essentially monadal and mediated by the infinitely centred nature of experience itself. It puts schizophrenia on context, it reminds us that in many ways schizophrenics have simply stepped ‘out of line’ or failed in their attempt to ‘play along’ with this prescribed pantomime of a communal perspective, but it’s also a forceful statement about the act of watching and interpreting theatre.
The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland is intelligent, formally liberated and bloody peculiar. It’s doubtlessly still evolving, and could perhaps shed a little of its obscurity, but as both seriously thought-provoking and seriously funny theatre, it sees Ridiculusmus (remaining) at the very top of their game.