“You can leave, if you want to,” Laura Jane Dean tells her audience – a simple statement of fact about the freedom afforded to an individual untouched by obsessive-compulsive tendencies. For Laura, even this simple task, like so many others, comes burdened with endless what-ifs and maybes.
Not that we want to leave, of course. This isn’t so much a performance as it is a confession, a conferment of trust towards a person whom she has never met before and probably never will again. This is a moment in which she informs an audience of strangers about her mental compulsion to hastily ritualise before her mother would arrive to tuck her into bed; her need to eat dinner in a car park so that others would know if she was choking; her crippling fear of the grim and foreboding thoughts that conflict with the endearing personality she so clearly presents. Dean charts her disorder across the years of her life and the different obsessions that come with it, each as prohibitive as the last of her ability to stop worrying, to be happy.
Nothing is off limits in Head Hand Head, and it is this which makes it captivating to watch. Dean looks each member of her audience in the eye, occasionally shooting an unscripted smile, drawing us into a friendship with her, suggesting that we are somehow helping. The potency of the piece comes from the kind of casual manner in which she addresses her obsessions - as though we sit opposite her in a pub as opposed to as a member of her audience. It is uncomfortable to hear so much and share nothing in return, and such a sentiment testifies to the intimacy of the piece itself, without which it could not possibly work.
The piece is at its best when its complicated issues are expressed in honest and straightforward terms. There are moments where words and syntax feel ill-chosen, and one suddenly becomes aware of its scripted nature: These - like the sometimes clumsily integrated music - were disruptive to one’s immersion. Still, I think one would be hard-pushed to find anything else at the Fringe that offers such a confidential and poignant insight into a world alien to most of us. The piece is well-judged at little over forty minutes; the point at which one only wanted to digest everything that had relentlessly come before. I find myself, even now, struggling to entirely get to grips with Dean’s experience. It may be that we can leave if we want to, but as we exit the studio, it becomes clear that her words will sit with us for quite some time.