Science-theatre is in vogue at the moment. With the emergence of science icons like Professor Brian Cox and Dr Ben Goldacre, the average person is now far more engaged with the workings of the world around them. This has seen the creation of works on subjects from physics to medicine – some good, some bad – but few as interesting as
A Journey Round My Skull is a superb piece of theatre: intense, in-depth, and thoroughly compelling throughout.
Inspired by the autobiography of Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy, this production focuses on the relationship between a neurosurgeon and a patient suffering from a brain tumour. The surgeon, Julia, is played with immense skill by Olivia Winteringham.
Julia is the only character on stage for the entire hour, but not once does the energy drop. First, she places the audience in the character of the patient, taking us through the background and details of our case. However, hints at a deeper story are skilfully interwoven through this business-like narrative, something which comes to fruition towards the end of the play.
What really makes A Journey Round My Skull stand out is its use of immersive technology. This first emerges in a delightful section which uses items on Julia’s desk to illustrate how misfiring synapses cause auditory hallucinations. It’s most plain, though, in the play’s centrepiece – an immersive audio experience, played through headphones, demonstrating what it’s like to have one’s brain operated on.
This section of the play is the most powerful – distorted piano music rises and falls in volume, punctuated by the sound of scraping and slicing instruments as Julia speaks intimately in your ear. This last element is especially effective as a clever setup of microphones around the bust of a human head means that Julia’s voice pans around your head as she stalks the head stage, at once reassuring and unnerving. The end result is a play that has you stumbling dazed from the auditorium and leaves you thinking for hours afterwards.
A Journey Round My Skull is a superb piece of theatre: intense, in-depth, and thoroughly compelling throughout. Winteringham holds the audience spellbound and the innovative use of technology draws us even further into the fascinating world of a mind gone wrong. This is a unique theatrical experience and one definitely worth having.