Review by Charlotte Leamon
A young woman named Lila finds herself in a mental asylum called ‘The Oxford Lunatic Asylum’ in the early 20th century. For one hour, we see Lila reveal reasons for her descent as she has an overbearing father and experienced sexual assault.
Throughout the play, writer and performer Shea Donovan integrates the poetry of Edward Lear. Inspired by his poetry, Donovan integrated his limericks into Lila’s panic attacks where she would find peace in his words. Donovan herself states, “Underneath the levity of his text are misfits who form unlikely friendships, suggestions of the unattainable, and profound truths expressed through nonsense.”
A simple set consists of two chairs and a bucket with a towel. Lila describes how two men took her away from her Nan, and how she forgot something but cannot remember what. We hear of stories where she found cats and kittens, but once her father found out they were taken away on a sieve in a pea boat per Lear’s poem. From stories such as these we understand that Lila’s father was harsh and mean, which understandably would affect the mental health of Lila. She speaks of one time hearing her father laugh where it sounded like, “candy floss” and she took it to bed with her as a gift and treasure to her heart.
Lila also speaks of the asylum and how her friend Gertrude found nails and hurt herself. She went to the infirmary and never came back, but Lila was still waiting upon her return which she did not understand would never come. Donovan created wonderful connections within her writing, as she mentions how a woman asked her what year it was and she soon became furious as her table was wobbling as she was attempting to write a letter to her Nan, who never replied. She threw the table at the woman and grabbed her, causing her to not be able to return to the recreational room. However, when another woman named Joan started to share a room with Lila after Gertrude’s passing, for unknown reason (according to Lila) she asked what year it was. Here, the audience saw a wonderful reaction from Lila as she discovered it was 1948, yet she thought it was 1927.
Donovan is an American actress, yet her English accent was flawless. Her graceful movements around the stage were prim and proper is per 20th century standards. In another space, the lights, sound and set could have a lot more to offer in this production, however given the space it was adequate as Donovan’s acting shone through. The importance of sharing this story was that Donovan could share the stories inspired by women across England and Ireland who were forced into institutions in the 19th and 20th century. These women were unable to share their stories, and Lila does this in a entertaining and thought-provoking manner.