As recently as the early 20th century it was not uncommon for women to be medically diagnosed with “hysteria”. This practise dates back to medieval times and the remnants of it still persist in sexist language use to describe women who are perceived to be a little too vocal about their feelings to this day. Of course this “wondering womb” syndrome is entirely fictitious so how did it come to be a part of popular medicine and who were the women diagnosed. The Outbound Project answers some of these questions in its current female focused production M.E.H.
A fantastic amount of energy
At the beginning we are told by the play’s effortlessly charismatic and charming narrator / director “this play doesn’t make sense”. This is entirely accurate and can be at times both the production’s strength and its folly. A fractured, physical version of the history of hysteria is interspersed with increasingly (intentionally) unsuccessful attempts at magic tricks and mind control all while trying to not get too distracted by the mad woman dancing in a box in the corner. She dances the whole time. With a lot of passion and energy. It is hugely commendable and hugely distracting. The company presents as a devising ensemble who’s road through rehearsal has been plagued with disagreement, a writer’s walk out, and a techie who can’t follow cues; this is explained to the audience as justification for their post-narrative structure and offered regular opportunities for humour all of which were delivered well drawing much laughter from the audience despite the show’s serious subject matter. At first I had some fear that this may be a show which was art made for artists, however the use of the narrator character may have provided clarity for audience members unfamiliar with a post-narrative structure, a form which easily runs the risk of becoming too confusing.
The performers in this show were highly commendable and put a fantastic amount of energy into their work. The sections of physical theatre really stood out as the strengths of this piece. They provided some innovative moments where their movements seemed to play with gravity allowing for a scene repeated throughout the performance to remain engaging. The writing however at times was lacking in room for in depth characterisation and a convoluted and long winded ending speech dried the otherwise predominantly fast-paced and witty atmosphere. Some detailing on the costumes also appeared somewhat jarring with, bright white trainers sticking out in contrast to the otherwise period inspired outfits.
The women of The Outbound Project feel like a truly exciting company with a lot more to give. With the strengths of this production and the quality of performances I firmly believe that they have a lot of potential and promise. M.E.H is worth a watch but their best is quite possibly yet to come.