The Divided Laing
Time Out says
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An engrossing drama about batshit mental '60s psychiatrist RD Laing
Imagine a mental health commune presided over by a doctor who thinks psychiatric drugs are evil, gives his patients acid and speed, helps them regress to shit-smearing childhood, and is desperate to get Sean Connery round for dinner. It sounds unbelievable now, in a world where there's more focus on how we treat mental illness than ever before. But in the free-wheeling '60s RD Laing was not only tolerated, but
allowed to expound his philosophies on BBC2. Occasional Time Out writer Patrick Marmion's fascinating new play is anything but a rose-tinted view of a crossroads point in modern psychiatric history.
Laing is portrayed as a publicity-hungry pragmatist, ready to punch and wrestle the more erratic inhabitants of his Kingsley Hall commune. But he's also a loving fantasist, lost in messianic visions of rescuing them from both anti-psychotic drugs and ideas of Freud, a 'Viennese cokehead'. Alan Cox's compelling performance has a comically
hangdog note to its Glaswegian tones, as he becomes lost in quasi-religious acid voyage to the future.
As angry skinheads gather and the charity that owns Kingsley Hall threatens to repossess it, Laing battles and time-travels with fellow psychiatrist David Cooper. He's a wreck, his reputation vanished in whiskey and acid. Oscar Pearce captures his rapid transitions from hockey stick-wielding fury to mystic introspection with a nervy
Marmion's play is a tense, blackly comic portrait of a community defined by barely-controlled chaos. But it also reinforces Laing's egalitarian vision of medical treatment by showing that the psychiatrists are no more clued up than the patients. Among the many
shades of moral grey, his love and optimism shine psychedelia bright.