DIAGNOSIS

Ugly Chief // Victoria Melody

Framed as a living funeral, Ugly Chief mines what is at stake when we numbly follow mainstream social norms or accept glib representations of the truth.

The entire show is founded on the misdiagnosis of Victoria Melody’s father with a terminal illness. Although he notices his health fails to plummet, he does not confer with his doctor, as is all too typical in relationships with professionals where technical prowess subsumes empathy. In the space of ignorance, Melody plans her father’s funeral, as requested, and trains as a funeral director. When the doctor’s error comes to light, the Melodys collaborate on ‘Ugly Chief’- a title that emerges from an inaccurate meaning ascribed to their surname picked up from online ancestral research.  There are frequent prods at our tendency to infer truth from unsubstantiated sources, like her father’s apparent familiarity and connection with the culture of New Orleans. As revealed by her research trip, it turns out it's limited to the opening sequence of Live & Let Die.

Melody confronts the conventional taboo of talking about death, luridly describing funeral practices such as sewing mouths closed in an attempt to make corpses parody the living and for death to appear less distressing. She shows us a product range of coffins rising to one at £19,000 with no value to the end-user.  These shiny veneers may offer more comfort than openly discussing death when alive, but in doing so they sidestep environmental factors and we relinquish our freedom of choice. We succumb to limited and often more costly options driven by corporate agendas. 

Rather than experience emotions, we choose what psychotherapist M Scott Peck describes as 'dinner party conversations', prevalent in what he describes as pseudo community: a shallow existence. Melody moves beyond her explorations of death and goes on to break a second taboo, the public airing of familial dirty laundry as she and her father explore their fractured relationship. Experts in truth and conciliation identify this willingness to talk as a precursor to forgiveness. At the end of the show, the Melodys read eulogies for one another that are raw and touching. Although this is a performative work and we have no way knowing what is real, Melody has attuned us to this dilemma earlier by describing her dim experiences at Chelsea College of Art, which include a tutor berating her for a poor understanding of Baudrillard’s Simulacra. In the end, perhaps it is only the willingness to experience emotions, to allow discomfort and speak the unspeakable that sets us free and enables us to be real. 

- Lubna Gem Arielle

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Doctor Patient Relationship - Huffington Post

A Field Guide to Lies and Statistics - Daniel Levitin

Live and Let Die (1973) - New Orleans Funeral Scene

Death Cafe

Death Doulas - Huffington Post

The Different Drum - M Scott Peck

Funerals - Ethical Consumer

The Forgiveness Project

Baudrillard's Simulacra

Sometimes I Adult // Fridge Magnet

voice

into

loop

pedal

1

2

3

4

these

lines

for

Alice

who

counts

in

fours

Sometimes I Adult is a solo show in four acts - Symptoms, Diagnosis, Recovery, Relapse - that sees Alice Sainsbury honestly and wittily divulge, tackle and stare down her ‘old man’ companion OCD. To help tell of her experiences, she arms herself with a loop pedal and a baritone ukulele with which she plays and sings songs from pop culture with re-written lyrics. The songs range from Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid to Stand By Me by Ben E King - an irreverent and joyous mix with a dual role of helping to protect the vulnerability within the work. 

More than episodic cabaret, there is a sense of Alice giving in to all the frustrations, powerlessness and fuckery of an incessantly checking brain that conjures images of destruction and hurt if lightening-quick instructions are not followed. For example, if Alice doesn’t balance a casual moment of goodbye with her mother as she runs an errand by waving, jumping, clearing her throat and saying, 'I love you’ four times, her mother’s car will catch fire and her skin will melt off. 

The capacity of a mentally distressed brain to conjure gruesome images resonates between many mental health issues. The show details their violent and graphic nature in a way that exposes the impact that this condition has on the performer and on the audiences. Audiences who will inevitably lie on a spectrum of being able to connect Alice’s experiences with their own or someone they know. 

Underlying the work are a several dichotomies that arise in OCD recovery; simultaneously being overwhelmed by intrusive thoughts but determinedly ‘staring that fucker down in the face’. The unpredictable medication side effects alongside the disorientating relapses. The knowledge of never being able to live without OCD interweaved with the hope of one day getting over it. 

All this looping, all this living, conjures another contradiction. Alice possesses a resilience from learning to manage her condition but alongside this, in moments when mental distress can strip the mind, this same resilience can feel like fuck all. 

a

bitter

sweet

strength

- Alexandrina Hemsley

 

Links Relevant to this Diagnosis:

Sometimes I Adult - Fridge Magnet

OCD UK

Living With OCD - Samantha Pena (TEDxYouth)

OCD Information and Support - Mind

ALTERED MINDS, ALTERED REALITIES / Augustus Stephens

ALTERED MINDS, ALTERED REALITIES / Augustus Stephens

Altered Minds, Altered Realities is a one-act, one-man play in which the playwright and actor, Augustus Stephens, depicts six characters in turn in a series of monologues, poems and songs. Each named character is living with a different serious mental illness.

SACRE BLUE / Zoe Murtagh & Tory Copeland

SACRE BLUE / Zoe Murtagh & Tory Copeland

According to the Journal of Psychopharmacology there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK in 2013. Zoe Murtagh is one of those and with Sacre Blue , her first full length solo show, she shares her experience - of trying to make anxiety a friend, of trying to conquer it, of trying to acknowledge its presence.

DECLARATION / Sarah Emmott & Art With Heart

DECLARATION / Sarah Emmott & Art With Heart

Declaration draws on Sarah Emmott’s experiences and (late) diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Developed with medical professionals, ADHD and mental health support groups, the piece begins with a highly energetic and comedic tone. Emmott shares childhood stories of embracing her then-undiagnosed self-defined “weirdness” within a supportive family context.

I'VE SNAPPED MY BANJO STRING, LET'S JUST TALK / Scott Agnew

I'VE SNAPPED MY BANJO STRING, LET'S JUST TALK / Scott Agnew

Long before his HIV diagnosis, Agnew needed another for his mental health, but the GP he saw wrote him off successively as an alcoholic, a food addict, a gambler, a sex addict and more, without recognising the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

FINGERING A MINOR ON THE PIANO / Adam Kay

FINGERING A MINOR ON THE PIANO / Adam Kay

Adam Kay left a career as an obstetrician six years ago. In Fingering A Minor on the Piano, he shares observations about the realities of working as a doctor, creating a picture of the conditions and pressures that sit behind strike action.

THE TALK / Mish Grigor

THE TALK / Mish Grigor

It's a basic fact of parenting that children grow up to do things you might personally find regrettable: contract sexual diseases, for instance, or make theatre, or worse, make theatre about contracting sexual diseases. Mish Grigor's parents have approved a version of her text for The Talk but not, she twinkles, this one. And

FRONTAL LOBOTOMY / Jeu Jeu la Foille

FRONTAL LOBOTOMY / Jeu Jeu la Foille

Burlesque poet Jeu Jeu la Foille (Victoria Hancock) explores the 20th Century medical practice of frontal lobotomy in her show of the same name, drawn together with her own thoughts and experiences, and the life and music of Tom Waits.

GUERILLA ASPIES / Paul Wady

GUERILLA ASPIES / Paul Wady

Paul Wady was accidentally diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome at the age of 41, after a run in with the police following his behaviour in a cinema. During the 12 years since, he has collected experiential anecdotes and evidence from other people with autism diagnoses and their families, helping to create a picture of what ‘Aspie normal’ is.

WHEN I FEEL LIKE CRAP I GOOGLE KIM KARDASHIAN FAT / Mighty Heart

WHEN I FEEL LIKE CRAP I GOOGLE KIM KARDASHIAN FAT / Mighty Heart

The two elderly women whose voices are heard in Mighty Heart Theatre's When I Feel Like Crap I Google Kim Kardashian Fat speak of the past with a glow, as a time when women felt less media and social pressure to conform to a particular look or body image.

BEND IN THE RIVER / Deep Water Theatre Collective

BEND IN THE RIVER / Deep Water Theatre Collective

Have you ever heard of Hansen’s disease? What about its more common name, leprosy? A disease that feels like it should belong in the history books, more than 200,000 people are still diagnosed with Hansen’s disease every year around the world, mainly in South America, Africa, India and south-east Asia. Given this distribution in the developing world, it’s easy to forget that it was a problem in the US until well into the 20th century.

TRACING GRACE / OffTheWallTheatreCo

TRACING GRACE / OffTheWallTheatreCo

Sixteen people are diagnosed with encephalitis – severe brain inflammation – every day in the UK, yet most of the public have never heard of it. Based on the real life experiences of writer and director Annie Eves, whose sister Grace was diagnosed with the condition at just three weeks old, Tracing Grace aims to open our eyes to the existence of encephalitis and the challenges of living with its long-term impact.