Preview: Women Laughing at the Old Red Lion
Play tackles mental illness with story of two men who seem to have it all
�Mental illness isn’t funny but by laughing at the misconceptions surrounding this historic taboo maybe society can learn to treat it like any other human ailment.
That is the hope of 31-year-old Teunkie Van Der Sluijs, director of Women Laughing, a play from the Blueprint Theatre Company running at Islington’s Old Red Lion Theatre throughout October.
Written by Michael Wall in 1987, while the late playwright was living in Islington, the play was originally meant for radio, first airing in 1988, before receiving its stage premiere in 1992, a year after Wall’s premature death at the age of 44.
At the point of his death in 1991, Wall was one of London’s brightest writing talents and among the vast body of work he left behind, Women Laughing is a production which still carries considerable relevance.
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Dutch-born Van Der Sluijs said: “It doesn’t seem dated at all. Although it was written in 1987, the taboos it looks at around mental illness are something that still hasn’t left us.
“These men that have it all and are poster boys of this society, it seems a taboo that they should suffer from mental illness and I think the play challenges that in a very earnest and honest way.”
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The play follows two couples who meet on holiday in Mallorca and strike up a friendship that continues back home in the UK.
Act one centres on a dinner party taking place at one of the couple’s homes where it is discovered that both men are receiving therapy for mental health issues.
By act two, the mood darkens as both men coincidentally find themselves sectioned in the same mental asylum.
Van Der Sluijs explains: “The Thatcherite society is the background to this play. It is looking at two couples who on the outside are the emblematic figures of that consumer-driven society, who seem very socially successful, and then the play reveals how mental illness starts to become a part of their lives.
“The main thing about the play is that it is a comedy, a dark comedy. It is not a comedy that pokes fun at mental illness but it pokes fun at the incomprehension around it.
“It needs laughter to relieve the tension that has built up around it.
“There are moments in the play that make you go ‘oh my God I can’t believe she just said that’ and then ‘oh my God I can’t believe I just laughed at that!’”
Women Laughing marks the end of a year-long project from the Blueprint Theatre Company exploring the 1980s, including a photographic exhibition, Don’t You Forget About Me, and a docudrama, Every Time I Think of You.
Sally Rose, 38, a founding member of the Blueprint Theatre Company who also stars in Women Laughing, said the company, especially this year’s project, aims to engage with all sections of the local community.
She said: “Theatre is often viewed as elitist and we are keen that everyone gets an opportunity to enjoy and be involved in theatre, because it’s a good, entertaining thing to do.”
n Women Laughing is at the Old Red Lion Theatre, St John Street, N1, until October 27. To book call 0844 412 4307.