Theatre is a delicate business and Ridiculusmus had their work cut out making their intense and atmospheric piece work in an almost empty Stephen Joseph Theatre. Four stars in the Guardian review when they opened at Brighton’s Sick festival hadn’t persuaded the older, mostly quite conservative, theatregoers of Scarborough to take a risk on a show called The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland. They like to know what they are coming to see. This is a great pity and it was their loss. I was full of admiration for the actors who had to make the play work against the odds. They deserved better- much better- and there was little energy in the space for them to work with. There is a saying that the audience is half of the play and it is tough work for an actor when that audience is thin on the ground, especially in an unforgiving space like the round which makes you so very aware of their absence.
Ironically what I like most myself about Ridiculusmus as a company is that they take risks. They are technically very skilled and what they do could only be done in a theatre. This quality is surprisingly hard to find on stage and should be cherished when you find it. This piece was very thoroughly researched and developed with access to medical practitioners in Finland using a pioneering approach to therapy which has been very successful in treating schizophrenia. It is intense and emotional and allows the patient a voice in the process. Two sequences of action take place simultaneously, back to back, and the audience is split in two to watch first one and then the other. The play shows us a family in crisis after a death and we search for meaning alongside them as things unfold in front of us to the accompaniment of disembodied voices. We are left to work out what is happening little by little as snippets of information are given and a picture builds. It is only when each half of the audience moves to the opposite side of the auditorium and we see the same events all over again from a different perspective that things become clearer. This is a technically difficult feat to bring off for the actors, given that they have to balance each side of the story while they move between the two halves of the stage. It’s an original and sometimes disconcerting idea. It can be quite hard to relax and just accept that you do not need to understand and make sense of everything as it happens. You are left with a haunting impression of something that never quite comes into focus. It’s impressionistic and challenging. I liked it but I’m not quite sure I fully understood it. If I had seen it in its original space, The Basement, at Brighton’s SICK festival I am almost certain I would have done both.
I am very glad that we saw Ridiculusmus back in Scarborough. Theatre must never stop pushing boundaries and using its own unique qualities to attempt new things. This company does that with some style and I am grateful for them.