I’d be impressed if experimental humorists Ridiculusmus could themselves offer a concise explanation of exactly what’s going on in ths magnificently-monikered new show. ‘The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland’ is a knotted black comedy about mental illness that feels like it exists in a way that is more than our minds can take in at once.
This is a deliberate effect: the audience is divided into two, with each half effectively seeing a different play (then swapping midway through to see the other), yet naggingly able to hear and later even see the second play taking place on the other side of a wall of varyingly opaque screens, linked by a doorway through which Jon Haynes’s central character frequently crosses over.
He has intense delusions of grandeur, which he expresses with amusing politeness, convinced that he has written most of the great fiction in the history of the world. One side of the set is his home, where his mother (Patrizia Paolini) seems even loopier than him, growling repetitively about the evening’s dinner to Haynes and his brother (Richard Talbot), who we suspect may in fact be dead, probably at Haynes's hands. And the other half of the set is some sort of psychiatrist’s office, where Haynes is seen to by a rambling doctor played by David Woods, who is possibly the maddest of the bunch.
As a straight play, it frequently teeters on the incomprehensible, and though it is informed by a technique that has indeed eradicated schizophrenia from Western Lapland, I think it’s safe to say you won’t learn a lot on that score. But as a piece of stagecraft it is completely remarkable – the two plays are synced up to different effects, with the ‘home’ side more focussed on the story of the mother – the psychiatrist’s office an alarming buzz in the background – and the ‘office’ side an immersion in Haynes’s troubled mind, the much louder home play ringing through and intruding at deliberate moments, intruding like the babble of voices in his head.
I’m not sure how much it tells us about insanity, but it feels like there’s an honesty to it, born from considerable research. But as a theatrical approximation of what one might imagine insanity to be like it is remarkable, virtuosic stuff.
By Andrzej Lukowski