Archives for category: Psychiatry


I saw this fascinating play recently at the Battersea Arts Centre

The production was simultaneously challenging, perplexing, moving and utterly absorbing. The piece was inspired by a radical treatment – dialogically based, inspired by the philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin – for schizophrenia that has seemingly virtually eradicated the condition in Western Lapland.

The play concerns four characters, a mother, her two sons, and a doctor/psychiatrist. All compete to speak and to be heard, all demanding our attention. It is never absolutely clear who is mentally ill within the cacophony of words and dialogue, but that may well be the writers’ intention. There is also an intriguing sense of something relatable about any ‘craziness’ witnessed. The resulting polyphony – even chaos – usefully reminds us that we are actually observing life as we probably witness it everyday, where we cannot be sure what is real, what is unreal, what is ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ behaviour and thinking, or not, including that which we ourselves act out in our daily lives. Definitions of mental health are at best fluid and inconsistent, and perhaps we all at times spend time at either side of the shady borders of psychosis.

The production involves a staging of two halves, not in the sense of merely being divided into two acts, but as two separate stories happening simultaneously on stage. Although aware of another story on the periphery, one’s focus is primarily directed towards the narrative directly in one’s gaze. After the interval, the audience switched to the other side of the auditorium so that you then directly experienced the alternative narrative. This may sound confusing, but it in fact added to the sense that life, its people and its stories are complex and chaotic, both real and unreal at the same time, and our interpretation of same is largely context-driven.

The writers state that ‘Our aim is to de-stigmatise and normalize psychosis and ultimately engage you in a quiet revolution in social interaction.’ This they achieve, working within the principles of the Lapland dialogical approach to treatment where uncertainty is allowed and a polyphony of voices flourishes.

The production challenges audience expectations using the technical device of switching space, stories and perspective in the second half of the performance. The play also questions what might be expected from an audience. There is no room for passivity here, audience involvement is pretty much demanded.

Unsurprisingly, there are references to the words of the psychiatrist RD Laing, who was associated with the anti-psychiatry movement and wrote extensively about psychosis, focusing on feelings as expressions of lived experience rather than mere symptoms of mental illness:

“I experience you and you experience me.”

“I see your behaviour. You see my behaviour. But I do not and never have and never will see your experience of me.”

This funny and tragic play moved and troubled me. Most of the time, I was unsure what exactly was unfolding on stage. Life was happening, I guess, equally troubled, unpredictable, inconsistent, indefinable, frightening, and at times joyous.

The production will have a short run at The Albany Theatre at the end of February. If you can, don’t miss.


I have seen such great theatre in London of late, tonight absolutely included.

I rarely go to large venues these days, instead loving the intimacy that smaller theatres offer and so often deliver.

This is probably my third or fourth time at The Print Room, and as a space to visit I love it more each time. Within the building I have been entertained in different ‘rooms’ on different occasions. Tonight, we were treated to a glass of wine in a little candlelit ante room (with piano), before moving up (narrow) stairs to the performance.

The play was performed within a relatively narrow rectangular space. There are three performers, Catherine, Joshua and Simon, all of whom are present for the 90 minute or so duration of the piece. The actors were uniformly really impressive.

Simon is a psychiatrist – of the ‘old’ school, a ‘pedantic piece of shit’ as named by Joshua – who is simultaneously seeing/treating both Catherine and Joshua.

Catherine has amnesia. Simon, who has become ‘bored by suffering’, is nonetheless interested in Catherine and her psychiatric state. His goal is to ‘remove the plaster’, thereby liberating her memory. The amygdala of the play’s title is the part of the brain that has come to be viewed as the centre of emotional memory.

The story that predated Catherine’s amnesia gradually unfolds. Catherine is a middle class lawyer who lives in Hampstead with her French lawyer husband, who seems to spend more time in Paris than in London, and their two young children. Joshua’s life rests at the other end of the spectrum, as a musician (saxophone) who takes the bus rather than black cabs, and who lives a life devoid of books. Yet, a series of (seemingly) chance encounters brings Catherine and Joshua together.

As Simon works on removing Catherine’s ‘plaster’, the traumatic and tragic story behind her memory loss is revealed. Many themes and threads pervade this short work of art, all of which weave together to create a story of humanness with all its inherent and inevitable flaws, frailties and vulnerabilities.

All three characters, most especially Simon and Catherine, are alone, lonely and vulnerable. Inside, but most especially outside the courtroom, truth is questioned and sought. Amygdala is a story of need and of desire, and of the reality and consequences of love, and the living of it, that is both beautiful and tragic.