Enda Walsh’s medicine is a mixture of humor and deep concern
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During the pandemic, medicine turned out to be the best medicine. But laughter and performance also had their place: liniments for the soul, if not for the body, while we were trapped in our own inescapable psychodramas. Like many of Enda Walsh’s works, her new piece takes place in a vacuum-sealed world and focuses on the idea of performance. But here, the worlds of theater and medicine parade with as much humor as deep concern.
When the Irish playwright began Disco pigs performed at the Traverse Theater in Edinburgh in 1997, he immediately made a name for himself. Medication was scheduled to be presented last year and it’s a leap of faith, maybe loyalty, to stage it now rather than waiting for auditoriums and Airbnbs to be fuller in 2022. in the main space de la Traverse is very small and very remote.
But that only adds to the feeling of complicity. Partly inspired by stories of abuse in Irish mental institutions, we watch John Kane (Domhnall Gleeson, known for his roles in the Harry potter and Star wars franchises), a patient in some kind of hospital, undergoes theater therapy. Two musical theater performers – both named Mary – work their way through traumatic scenes in her life: childhood bullying, parental abuse, violence from facility staff.
John goes into terrifying delusions recounting these traumas, but the actors seem more interested in themselves. Clare Barrett’s Mary Two wants to cut pages of her life script so she can get to another gig; Aoife Duffin’s Mary One doesn’t want to participate at all. John’s life is reduced to a scenario, then disguised.
The dynamic is familiar to anyone who has rehearsed a play, especially the conflicting personalities of the Marys, but placing this scenario in the context of a mental institution, the act of performance becomes incredibly sinister. Suddenly it is no longer fluffy art; it is experimental therapy, perhaps psychological torture.
Walsh, who also directs, scrolls the piece through hollows of calm and peaks of complete chaos, all with noise and movement. It’s intense, but silly humor is never far away – do you fancy the lobster costume?
There is real joy in seeing Duffin and Barrett face off like the Marys: Barrett is masterfully overworked, full of vain acting bluster, Duffin more nervous and uncertain. While Gleeson impressively pulls off the feverish highlights of Walsh’s speeches, there’s more power in his quieter moments. On the surface, it’s all sweetness and acquiescence, but these qualities barely mask everything that goes on below. He seems very sorry and very lost.
Along with these full-fledged performances, one of the stars is Helen Atkinson’s sound design, which spans the gamut from hammered disco music and terrifying surround sound voice patchworks to institutional buzzes that swirl like a spirit that swirls. frayed. Seán Carpio’s live drum score adds to the unease.
Walsh describes Medication partly about how we treat people in care, and says the play is a call to listen. In this ritual, there is no healing and no end point for John – just repeated, endlessly, absurd trauma. With his horrific flashes and pervasive sense of paranoia, Medication is theater as aversion therapy. A bitter pill that we should take and swallow.
As of August 29, eif.co.uk