The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland

The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland, by theatre company Ridiculusmus, is about the creation of an experience. Despite the title, this is not a simple narrative about the Finnish managing to all but eliminate the condition known as ‘schizophrenia’ through a process of ‘open dialogue’. Ridiculusmus are aiming for something much more interesting and have produced a remarkable production.

With this challenging work, Ridiculusmus does not merely describe or present a performance of schizophrenia, but creates within each audience member a deliberate, bodily, and individual familiarity with schizophrenia.

As the audience enters, they are divided into two groups, each on one side of the stage. In the middle of the playing space there’s wall of windows with a door, splitting the stage into two distinct sections with each side facing one half of the audience. Actors are divided across the split stage areas. The play then commences. Or should we say, ‘plays’, because there are two separate stories being explored, at the same time, in the two different spaces, using the same characters, but in different time periods. Whilst watching one play, the audience can hear dialogue from the other side, which often echoes, intersects or influence the dialogue of the play being viewed. Actors switch between sides and are sometimes present in both scenes at once. The chaos of the plays is confusing and complex--one often finds oneself distracted by something on the other side (dialogue, the audience’s reaction), only to return to the other play not knowing what’s going on. There is a ‘narrative’, but it’s kept so distant and shuffled so much that one can only understand the very basics of relationships and events. Halfway through the show, the audience is switched to the other side of the stage, the set recreated and the action begins again. There is a false sense that things will now become clear--but we still can’t see/hear everything and we continue to bump along, feeling muddled and unsure of ourselves.

Oddly enough, these are not criticisms. With this challenging work, Ridiculusmus does not merely describe or present a performance of schizophrenia, but creates within each audience member a deliberate, bodily, and individual familiarity with schizophrenia. They are not content to simply talk about or show us people experiencing auditory hallucination and the ‘ordinary chaos of psychosis;’ they want us to feel these things in our own bodies.

The cast (Jon Haynes, Patrizi Paolini, Richard Talnot, David Woods) is focused and compelling. The set, designed by George Tomlinson, is wonderfully flexible, allowing the audience to see more and more of the action on ‘the other side’ as actors pull up blinds and pull down curtains. The script, by Jon Haynes and David Woods, is often hilarious.

This is demanding theatre and it may not be for everyone. However, if an audience member is willing to make the effort to concentrate and consider what’s being presented, they will find the encounter richly rewarding and admirably unique.

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The Blurb

A dual family drama about recovery from schizophrenia. It simultaneously stages the first psychotic episodes of a mother and son as they navigate stress and change with fantastical results involving Finnish folk, Margaret Drabble, Adolf Hitler and the knitted cover for a toilet roll. Their two interconnected stories are performed to separate but adjoining auditoria in the same theatre space, audible but unseen to each other. At half time they switch seats and the action is replayed, mapping a pathway to recovery through dialogical understanding of their situation.

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