Ladywell Psychiatric Ward has a new in-patient. Unbeknownst to herself, Max has been sectioned. With the credence in her own godliness, the “gift” of telepathic communication, and the belief that this is all one big social experiment, Max is slowly coming to terms with life on the psyche ward.
University of Edinburgh undergraduate and Edinburgh University Theatre Company’s own, Michael Hajiantonis, wrote Going Slightly Mad as a means of telling his own, honest experience as a patient on an NHS psychiatric ward. In an earlier interview for The Student, Hajiantonis revealed his distaste with how mental illness is regularly represented in the media today, insisting that its daunting portrayal widens the gap between those affected and those who are not. For two nights only, Bedlam Theatre played host to this beautiful, thought-provoking piece of theatre.
As opposed to the familiar depiction of psychiatric patients as dangerous, or a cause for second-hand embarrassment, the central character Max (based on Hajiantonis himself) is sharp, witty, and a truly dire dancer. In spite of a few brief moments of relapse and confusion, she mostly is depicted as a fun and fiery character; someone relatable.
The idea of a character being both ‘relatable’ and ‘mentally unstable’ may have seemed far-fetched in past society, however, as Hajiantonis believes, it is essential to stop portraying mental impairment as something which takes over or becomes an individual. This is the central element of what makes Going Slightly Mad such a ground-breaking piece of theatre. It is original in its pure normality.
Other than one scene (of which viewers are informed is fictional), the play is extremely minimal in its dramatization, not only giving the viewers a palpable insight into the reality of institutionalism in the UK, but also providing them with a different means of thinking about the mentally ill, in a way that doesn’t separate them from ourselves.
Though one could argue for the lack of a well-ordered plotline, the somewhat muddled structure of the play certainly contributed to the feeling of perversion within the mind. The use of music and dance as a means of portraying Max’s altered state of mentality under the influence of sedatives is stunning yet deeply uncomfortable to watch. Similarly, the physical representation of Max’s panic episodes creates an excessive unease within the viewer which must be appreciated. In combination with a chaotic soundtrack and a vibrant lighting sequence, the audience truly feels swallowed into Max’s distorted perceptions.
Each member of the cast deserves recognition for their performances this week, particularly Lizzie Lewis for her portrayal of Max. Whether having the audience laughing or teary-eyed, there is no doubt that her frantic yet charming performance sent every viewer on a roller-coaster of emotion.
With an aim in mind of at least partially de-stigmatising the idea of mental illness, it is safe to say that not only has Michael Hajiantonis certainly made a long-lasting emotional impact within his audience this week, but he has also already made a difference to the world of mental health support. For those lucky enough to have acquired tickets to this sold-out show, it was without a doubt an illustrious, enrapturing and pedagogic evening.
Going Slightly Mad
Image: Kelechi Hafstad