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Tomorrow I Was Always a Lion, Arcola, review: ‘Vivid depiction of terror, pain and despair’

PUBLISHED: 12:00 02 November 2016

Tomorrow I Was Always a Lion at the Arcola Theatre. Photo:  Marilyn Kingwill

Tomorrow I Was Always a Lion at the Arcola Theatre. Photo: Marilyn Kingwill

Marilyn Kingwill

Audiences at this intrepid production are not so much watching a play about schizophrenia as experiencing the condition inside the heads of the performers.

Audiences at this intrepid production are not so much watching a play about schizophrenia as experiencing the condition inside the heads of the performers and recalling their nightmares.

The extreme physical and mental intensity of the performances, combined with faultlessly timed lighting, sound and projections, give an astonishingly vivid reproduction of the terrors and pain, fantasies and realities, despair of those who are afflicted.

The play is based on Arnhild Lauveng’s memoir, A Road Back from Schizophrenia, about her ten long years trapped in a bloody forest full of predators and her eventual recovery.

Iaian Syme’s lighting and video designs and Robert Martland’s sound together produce exactly the right balance between surreal and real, subtle and terrifying.

The director, Vladimir Shcherban, is strongly influenced by a previous production by Belarus Free Theatre of Sarah Kane’s 4:48 Psychosis (banned in Belarus).

It deals with urgent issues about psychosis and its treatment by society and professionals.

What we perceive as an illness is perhaps an inevitable response to society’s injustices. It is incurable. Lauveng did not recover, so much as accept, her condition.

This is the first production by Belarus Free Theatre with an all-British cast. The director makes a direct parallel between the silence and denial that surrounds psychosis in our society and the stifling oppression the company experiences in Belarus. This brings the reality and intensity of lived experience to his work.

Furthermore, he succeeds in transferring this authenticity to the multi-talented cast. Grace Andrews, Oliver Bennett, Emily Houghton, Samantha Pearl and Alex Robertson form an ensemble so perfect that it is impossible to single out individual performances. Their combination of Belarus and British dramatic skills and experiences result in a production of unusual intensity and insight. They each perform a profusion of roles, exploring the sufferings of the psychotic individual and the insoluble problems she presents to society and to those attempting to “cure” her. This mesmerizing production is not comfortable viewing but provides unforgettable insight and understanding. And hope. There is always hope.

Rating: 4/5 stars


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