THE TEMPTATION OF ST ANTHONY The Mechanical Animal Corporation

The old veterinary college setting of The Temptation of St Anthony creates an atmosphere of 'ritual' with a formality yet a sense of something 'out of the ordinary' from the outset. This devised performance responds to the legend of St Anthony, a man who went into the Egyptian desert 1700 years ago and experienced 'spirit possession' throughout his life.

We meet and get to know something of the very individual and idiosyncratic performers as each of the five actors enter, three of them wearing torn and burnt clothing. There is chaos and calm, powerful vocal sounds along with stones, healing bowls and drums, starkly contrasted at times with discord, hysteria and wailing.the acoustics of the building are highly beneficial for this piece and the musical talents of this group of people.

The research for the show (supported by The Wellcome Trust, amongst others) was influenced by case studies but these were not dramatized, instead the performers illustrate narrative aspects of possession, created by imaginative engagement in the experience of possession based on their research findings.  These elements of narrative are an articulate illustration of the way in which possession and/or psychiatrically diagnosed conditions, are hugely complex, multi-layered and difficult to describe (Put something in about Petra's work here?) The ensemble comprises performers from Egypt, New Zealand, The UK, Sweden and Japan; which provides a rich cultural representation and contribution of differing voices which have the capacity for harmony as well as each retaining their very distinct individuality. The theme of possession was researched from psychiatric, anthropological and religious angles, with the input from experts in each field. 

The printed programme accompanying the show provides a detailed and thorough description of the research process, which attends to the delicate nature of the subject matter and its need for respect and care. For someone who does not read the programme, questions may be raised about the potential problems involved in portraying people with mental health issues, and the appropriateness of this in performance (or not). This show refers to the form of spirit possession that in many cultures is regarded as a form of mental illness, rather than it being a possible mode of healing. It refers to the various cultural stereotypes associated with it, such as labels like 'insane' 'deranged' 'mad' and 'hysterical' This conflict of how possession is perceived and 'treated' within different cultures, underpins the show, with questions being raised about it being 'indefinable' and the spiritual aspect not being regarded as something treatable by psychiatrists, only the medical aspect is diagnosable and treatable. (CL)

THE TEMPTATION OF ST ANTHONY, The Mechanical Animal Corporation, 13-30 August. Summerhall Demonstration Room. This venue is not wheelchair accessible, other accessibility may be available, please check with venue.

More about The Mechanical Animal Corporation, one of our Partners in Sickness and Health:

On exorcisms and psychology:

Links provided by The Mechanical Animal Corporation.

Spiritual Crisis Network:

Royal College of Psychiatrists: