Review by Susanne Dahn
Flesh Disease sets out to give voice and body to the lived experience of mental illness so that audiences can better understand it by actually feeling it’s reality - in the nerves, right there between bone and skin.
The piece is short, a blessing perhaps because it is uncomfortable, uncomfortable to hear and see and feel the stark inside-out of the spectrum of bruises and tears and spiders and paper-cuts and voices, voices, voices that make up mental illness.
It’s the work of Romi Kupfer, a Melbourne theatre maker and arts therapist, who draws inspiration from contemporary culture and issues and a wide range of performing arts. The concept of Flesh Disease is Romi‘s and she produces and directs this production. Romi‘s other productions include Delilah, Loop and Singing Swallows.
For Flesh Disease, Romi has collaborated with Melbourne writer Diane Stubbings. Stubbings’ other plays include The Parricide, The Possibility of Zero, These are the Things, Void, Entangled, The Annotations, Darkwater and Willowdene.
The performers are Angelique Malcolm, Yoni Prior, Sasha Leong, Sonia Marcon and Lesley Coleman, each of them costumed by Betty Auhl in fringes to make the lovely point about where mental illness still largely resides in our society.
Together and individually the cast fidget, jiggle, itch, tic, gyrate, sing, shout and knit their way through an energetic, kinetic performance which gives visceral insight into the unpredictability, relentlessness and, in some cases, unending nature of mental illness. Oh please make it stop.
Words are not the whole of it we know, but Stubbings script is sharp and hammers home the pain of the “sandpaper, nettles and goblins feet”. The emblematic use of the rat stays with the audience - it scratches from inside, you spend all your time waiting for it to stop and then to start again. And the staccato, gun battery wordscapes are designed and executed to great effect.
Set and technical in a theatre as tiny as La Mama is always challenging, but it is a star of this show thanks to the wonderful collaboration of Simon Starr on sound, Jarman Oakley on lighting and Jenna Eriksen on projection.
“Another row, another row” intones the cast - the blood just keeps going round and round in your head. But it’s productions like this one that help reduce the barriers to understanding and make us all kick harder to do what can be done to alleviate the burdens of mental illness. “Too bad, too sad” must never be good enough again.