Laura Pujos and Jasmine ReesJohannes Hjorth

Attending a rehearsal for The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland, I was amazed at the intricate work already taking place. The stage was split in half for the rehearsal; for the show itself a wall will be built in the Corpus Playroom thus allowing the actors to explore the nature of schizophrenia. Each side of the audience will have a different experience (maybe an excuse to attend twice?), but will still hear snippets from the other side: sometimes clearly, and sometimes as a shadow of a sound, mirroring auditory hallucinations experienced by some schizophrenic patients. After the rehearsal I chatted to the directors, Gabriella McGuinness and Jake Morris, about their highly anticipated show.

Can you provide a brief overview of the play?

Gabriella: It’s quite a weird one to describe in full…it’s two different scenes in two different time zones, and they’re two different locations, but it’s revolving around this one family unit.

Jake: We encounter a mother on one half of the stage and her son Richard having a therapy session on the other half. Both Richard and his mother have experienced psychosis: both have schizophrenia, but the illness manifests itself in different ways in each of them.

G: With the mum, we see her battling with schizophrenia, and coming to terms with it; whereas with Richard we see him being diagnosed and in therapy grappling with the dynamic of patient-doctor.

Have the two of you always wanted to work together?

J: We’ve wanted to direct together for a while, and I think it works well as we’re directing on two different sides of the stage, so it’s useful to have two different directors.

G: We swap between the sides, but I focus more on the domestic half. It kind of happened by accident, but we do still swap.


Where did you hear about the play?

J: The play was originally on at the Edinburgh Fringe, as a piece of new writing.

G: It’s a theatre group called ‘Ridiculusmus’ that deals a lot with mental health.

J: I thought it would fit perfectly in Corpus, because of the audience layout.

G: It works so well. We can actually divide the playroom.


Can you say a little more about dividing the Playroom?

J: There will be a wall dividing the stage, but there will be gaps; there’s a door in the middle and a window. At points it will be quite hard to hear the other side, but at times the dialogue works like that.

G: Yes, the dialogue interjects.


How did you go about rehearsing these interjections? Was each side rehearsed separately and slotted together, or did you rehearse the play as a whole for a while?

G: We started with split rehearsals.

J: Yes, we rehearsed separately, because the lines are mainly grouped on the same side. We then slot them together, so we can get the cues from the other side.

G: We’ve done it with scripts for a while, just because the cues are so hard to learn. But it’s coming together now and the actors can use the interjections as times to react.


Can we turn to the ever so important issue of mental health in theatre? This play is overtly dealing with themes surrounding mental healthcare and in particular the issue of diagnosis. Why do you think this kind of theatre is important?

G: The good thing about the script is that it tries to normalise the discussion of schizophrenia by making some elements comic; but we also didn’t want to make some of the absurd dialogue over-the-top or ostentatious. We want to show that anyone can experience these delusions; it shouldn’t necessarily be seen as something out of the ordinary.

J: It’s also such a specific case. We follow one family. It’s a personalised account, rather than a general one. Also, rather than just showing schizophrenia from an outside perspective, the play allows the audience to experience some aspect of schizophrenia themselves.

G: Yes, we want it to be a bit disconcerting.


Finally, what would you like the audience to take away from your production?

G: It’s obviously important to get people talking about mental health. I think if mental health can be explored through art, that’s so great. Theatre can be used to bring out these issues.

J: We want to really unsettle the audience, and let the show as a whole have an impression, rather than just the characters on stage. We are inviting the audience to participate and be involved in the piece.

 

The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland runs from Tuesday 10th to Saturday 14th May 2016, at 7pm, in the Corpus Playroom.

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