New Ridiculusmus show opens tonight at Arts House

The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland by UK-based theatre company Ridiculusmus open tonight at the Arts House Meat Market. Kevin Turner sat down with Co-Artistic Director David Woods, who makes up the main “artistic double act” with Jon Haynes, and talked about how a mental health treatment practised in Finland inspired the work and how humour is used to address delicate topics.

David Woods. Photo by Jemima Yong
David Woods. Photo by Jemima Yong

Most other theatre companies are just wrong!

Talking to David, it’s clear that Ridiculusmus are a company who throw everything into the creation of their work. When David and Jon come together to make work they are driven by what they are doing and approach it without fear or second guessing.

While they often work with guest artists and collaborators, David’s very open about the fact that he and Jon work as “authors” or the forces that drive it. He says, “Most other theatre companies are just wrong!” He went on to clarify that what is meant by this is that when he and Jon are in the room together in the creative process then “there is only one way and it’s our way”.

Creators with that level of confidence in what they are doing are bound to create exciting and dynamic work, because they are confident in their ability to do so regardless of what anyone else might be saying.

Use humour as a tool for social change

Ridiculusmus began as a touring company in 1992 and many of the original members dropped off as the lifestyle became too difficult. This left David and Jon, which David describes as a meeting of “serious comedians”.

While Ridiculusmus style themselves as a company creating theatres filled with laughter, they claim to follow “an oxymoronic aim: to be both serious and funny.” This is seen in their previous works, such as Say Nothing, which approached the brokering of, and the aftermath following, the creation of a peace treaty in Northern Ireland.

Their humour comes from addressing serious topics by placing “characters in rather comical situation”. Their works exist as a “provocation” to “spark people out of entrenched attitudes”. David says that we don’t think of our “humour as jokes” and dismisses “puns, one-liners and whatever”.

Their humour is “character driven and is about the absurdity of situation”. And here is where we can begin to see where Ridiculusmus are with The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland.

David says there will be laughs in the show but to expect “the surprising laughter of characters in extreme situations,” as well as black humour derived from “the awfulness of the situation”.

He stressed that mental health is not a funny topic but humour can be derived from the way people deal with it and the absurdity that can be present in our culture surrounding mental ill-health. 

The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland in rehearsal. Photo by Jemima Yong
The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland in rehearsal. Photo by Jemima Yong

A sane response to an insane situation

The Eradication Of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland is inspired by the Open Dialogue method of treatment of schizophrenia that has developed in Finland, which has had unprecedented success rates. However the play “is not Finland, but knows about Finland”.

Discussing the humour of the piece, David says he plays a “particularly bad psychiatrist”. He also stresses that the psychiatrists who practice this method are brilliant psychiatrists. But in showing the mistreatment of mental ill health, David and Jon are hoping to bring attention to the fantastic treatments to which they have been exposed in the creation of this work.

And they have certainly done their research. After initially discovering the source material they created The Family Play, the original title of this show, and David and Jon attended a conference about that treatment. They placed their characters through a series of Open Dialogue treatment sessions to get an idea of how the process could be approached dramatically. These sessions were also recorded to be used as training videos for other psychiatrists.

Leave all those stigmas before you arrive

The show promises to be an educational and enlightening experience for the audience and David implores the audience to enter the space with an open mind. Ridiculusmus promise an “immersive experience” and a “double staging of two plays”.

The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland runs 12–16 November at the Arts House, Meat Market. David and Jon are joined by guest Australian theatre makers Nicola Gunn and Ben Grant.

The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland
Ridiculusmus and Arts House
Arts House, Meat Market
12–16 of November
Post Show Q&A 13/11/2014 9:10pm

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