The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland is a difficult play. The title (as intriguing as the script itself) is based on a real treatment, although as the cast mentioned, this really isn’t the focus of the play. Performing a relatively new play is at once a blessing and a curse; it debuted in Edinburgh only last year to high acclaim, and so there is a lack of foreknowledge, but the premise has to excite theatre-goers in the first place. I asked one of the directors, Gabrielle McGuinness, to tell me more about the play.
“Eradication follows Richard (Gus Mitchell), a sufferer of schizophrenia, and uses the set and props in order to replicate his experience for the audience. The stage is split in two by a wall; on each side, different stories (with the same characters) are taking place – the audience should be totally immersed in the performance. Some interesting work is done with the characters; the same actor, Jerome Burelbach, for example, plays a doctor on one side and Richard’s father on the other. It is devices such as this, as well as increasingly more surreal props, that emphasise the hallucinations of someone with schizophrenia.”
To anyone who regularly watches Cambridge theatre, the Corpus Playroom seems perfect for this – its intimate, and at times sparse space lends itself to the surreal, domestic theatre.
The cast certainly seemed to be fully immersed in the experience: the rehearsal was at once friendly but serious, Jasmin Rees, Laura Pujos and Dolores Carbonari totally dedicated to their characters from the beginning. However, the play is reliant on its innovative structure, and so I was curious to know whether this had created any unforeseen challenges.
“Matching up lines, and remembering the cues across the dividing wall was at first interesting” admitted Gabrielle. “However we got into it pretty quickly, and now it comes as naturally as if it was only one scene”
As I watched the small cast rehearse, it was obvious they were approaching the subject of mental health with an incredible amount of sensitivity. However, this is fundamentally a black comedy, and I wondered how this was used to discuss the taboo.
“To use drama as a means of discussion is natural, I think, in that its so immersive. Before tackling the script, we had a workshop with the cast which involved a series of disorientating exercises. These allowed us to move towards understanding the condition we are portraying, and also allowed us to see the dark humour in it all. The fact the play is based around a family moves this into a relatable sphere- and hopefully will allow people to feel comfortable discussing the issues raised afterwards. Aside from the themes of mental health, however, there is a remarkable piece of drama here, and our brilliant cast should bring it to life.”
Directorial precision, in addition to full dedication from the actors themselves, suggests the play is in great stead for its opening on Tuesday night.
The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland opens at 7pm at the Corpus Playroom, on Tuesday 10 May.
See Johannes Hjorth’s blog for more photographs of the rehearsal: