COMEDY

Borderline // Amelia Stubberfield

Borderline by Amelia Stubberfield bears a similarity to the recent evolution of stand-up (with Hannah Gadsby's Nanette as the iconic example), where the conventional structure is punctured, warped and eventually collapsed in the face of true stories of suffering.

For Stubberfield, these stories centre around their years of mental health issues, distilled to a tome of medical notes and a three-letter diagnosis: BPD. Borderline personality disorder, affecting less than 2% of the population can manifest itself in a variety of ways, including fear of abandonment, suicidal ideation and difficulty in maintaining relationships. As Stubberfield self-deprecates, 'the Tinder profile writes itself'.

Their medical notes, along with recorded interviews with both friends and clinicians, offer different windows onto their experience of BPD - "Or, as I call it, life". Medical notes and similar documents have been used by other artists (from Bobby Baker to the vacuum cleaner) in attempts to illustrate the lonely and often grueling journey through the mental health system. With this piece, they serve to fracture the storytelling, as Stubberfield's BPD is seen through the eyes of many separate people across the mental health system - some looking with warmth, some coldly clinical.

In Borderline, Stubberfield vividly illustrates the entanglement of identity and illness by scrawling phrases from her medical notes on her body. In this way, they highlight how easy it is to conflate the sufferer and the symptoms. One therapist is 'bored during sessions with Amelia'; another notes they are 'casually yet appropriately dressed'. Where is the line between Stubberfield's actual and Disordered Personality? Every action is vulnerable to pathologisation, as seen in a re-enacted phone call with the CMHT officer.

Though life with BPD is described openly and vividly, the greyscale 'other place' of mental illness can only be truly understood by those who have already been there. It is alluded to right at the start, before Stubberfield steps onstage: we hear a rising cacophony of noise and drone, building to an uncomfortable volume. A snap from black to a spotlight, revealing Amelia and a microphone. The stand-up starts and the first topographical lines are laid of that other place, from which they may only recently have returned.

- Hannah Maxwell


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Amelia Stubberfield

How common are mental health problems? - Mind

Borderline Personality Disorder - Mind

Community Mental Health Teams - Rethink Mental Illness

Bobby Baker: The Art of Surviving Mental Illness - Guardian

the vacuum cleaner - Mental

She's A Good Boy // Elise Heaven

Are you a girl or a boy?

No.

Gender is a spectrum, and the acknowledgement of that is the bare minimum 2018 should expect. Not everyone wants to wear the same shirt or underwear, or to be called a man or a woman. The signs and signifiers of what makes a man or a woman are constructed through language and symbols, and so are as up for deconstruction as anything else. You can be one, or the other, both or neither, and if nothing else it’s simply polite to accept how others choose to define themselves. Absolutes are incorrect, and definitive claims made in the name of science inaccurate. What it means to be male or female changes across societies and cultures and across history. There is no medical gender binary, no chromosome test that accurately dictates the gender of every person in the world. XX and XY do not neatly correspond to men or women, and ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are just ideas.

Elise Heaven uses their own experience of this articulation of gender to create their show out of humour, anecdote, silly props and homemade costume. The ridiculousness of someone telling someone else how they feel is rightly lampooned, and any mystery around being non-binary subverted through mime and monologue. Like many other shows which engage with the experience of non-binary or trans performers, familiar difficulties are staged and explained – the expectation to wear gendered clothing for a wedding or a job, the awkwardness of parents when kids simply ask, and the unease sometimes felt in everyday interaction. Accompanied by ukulele songs and debates with themselves, Heaven engineers an easy interaction with a supportive audience. The debate around gender continues both within people and about them. Connection and education is the first step.

-       Lewis Church

 

links relevant to this diagnosis:

Elise Heaven - She's A Good Boy

Gender Beyond the Binary (Video) - Guardian

What Is Non Binary? - refinery29

9 Things People Get Wrong About Being Non-Binary - Teen Vogue

Gender Doesn't Come Down to Chromosomes - The Globe and Mail

Agender and Non-Binary - Our Queer Stories

Wretched // Richard Stott

Richard Stott’s stand-up show documents his experiences as an actor with a disability. Born with Poland syndrome, a condition that resulted in an underdevelopment of his hand and chest, he recounts his experience of existing in an awkward position between identifying as disabled and not due to his ‘non-conformist left hand’. Re-enacting the misguided attention of casting agents and directors, his jokes orbit the fallibility of arbitrary labels, and the grim irony of his position. Once told that he was too young to play Richard III, it was nevertheless acceptable for a marginally older actor to adopt a clawed hand in the role. One incongruity with the character’s body as written was acceptable, whilst the other was not.

Stott’s performance traces the shifting attitudes to disability through the prism of the experience of a performer, from the Ancient Greece through the Victorian era to his own today. Drawing on a memory from a holiday in Athens, Stott asks what his potential as an actor in the Theatre of Dionysus might have been. He asks if he would have been able to perform, or thrown from the rocks in the distance as an ‘imperfect’ specimen. Or would he have participated in the Victorian freak show, making money from his difference? Is it better to hide his disability or engage with it?

The question of disabled actors and disabled roles is one that periodically emerges in high-profile public debate. Eddie Redmayne, Daniel Day Lewis, Tom Hanks and Sam Clafin have all engaged in this ‘disability drag’, as Roger Ebert once put it, to extended protest and debate. The ‘shortcut to an Oscar’ route for playing disabled characters is a cliché, and is now at least questioned when it emerges. The other side of this coin, the stereotyping of the disabled actors, within the work they are able to secure, is equally problematic. The pressure to resist poorly written characters that correspond to a disability is a dilemma within an ultra-competitive casting climate, where any work is to be treasured. Those who manage to negotiate this, are few and far between. Even disabled actors at the peak of their fame still face this difficult negotiation, as Peter Dinklage has attested to. Diversity quotas are a blunt instrument, and as Stott observes, it is one that often leaves actors like him, with a disability but not particularly disabled, in the moral dilemma of grasping the opportunity or denying the work.

-       Lewis Church

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Wretched - Richard Stott

Actor Has Fingers Replaced With ToesHuffington Post

Poland Syndrome - Genetics Home Reference

Disability Drag - Roger Ebert

Peter Dinklage on Choosing Roles Carefully - The Talks

DON'T PANIC! IT'S CHALLENGE ANNEKA / on the button

DON'T PANIC! IT'S CHALLENGE ANNEKA / on the button

A solo comedy show in which writer and performer Sophie Winter plays all the parts, including her boss, her mum, her best friend and 90s TV star Anneka Rice, Don't Panic! It's Challenge Anneka is all about anxiety. It uses humour and silliness to demystify and start conversations about a serious subject.

THIS IS YOUR FUTURE / Lynn Ruth Miller

THIS IS YOUR FUTURE / Lynn Ruth Miller

Lynn Ruth Miller is 82, and she's been doing stand-up for 12 years. The focus of This is Your Future is ageing, and it features faulty hearing aids, fractured limbs, replacement hips, mammograms and colonoscopies. It also discusses the joys and perils of geriatric dating – google it and you'll find a range of websites aimed at 'senior singles', although Miller suggests the obituaries are a good place to find out who's newly available.

COOK IT HOW YOU LIKE, IT'S STILL A POTATO / Romina Puma

COOK IT HOW YOU LIKE, IT'S STILL A POTATO / Romina Puma

Romina Puma enters the room using her wheelchair, stands up to get on stage and declares ‘a miracle’. Setting an extravagent tone for her latest show, Cook It How You Like, It’s Still a Potato. Puma quickly discloses as having muscular dystrophy - just in case we are under any illusion she's faking it.