Thursday 7th October 2010
To gain an understanding of the world from another person’s point of view, or at least to attempt it, is said to be one of the most enlightening projects one can attempt, and this is why the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival that hits Glasgow throughout October is such a worthwhile undertaking. The festival is now in its 4th year, and has become well established and valued, with over 200 arts events around Scotland offering a challenging perspective on mental health, and of those who are often marginalized and misunderstood.
One such insightful piece is Dirty Paradise, a one-act monologue play, written and performed by Leann O’Kasi, and presented at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow. The play centres around the character of Maria as she struggles to deal with her disturbing past and sense of growing imprisonment whilst battling recurring and demanding voices in her head. The performance is circular, beginning and returning to the scene of a car crash which leads Maria to her own temporal paradise. This paradise is in the form of an isolated therapeutic centre in the Brazilian desert where she at last begins to untangle the twisted threads of her memories.
One thing Dirty Paradise does so well is to impose a direct confrontation with the powerful emotions Maria herself is dealing with, for example the terror and confusion that Maria would obviously experience as she tackles the battle within herself. A gloriously chaotic set created by Arlene Wandera of half-packed suitcases, muddled clothes and the jagged junk of smashed-up car, displays visually for the audience elements of the turmoil Maria feels. Inspired lighting punctuating moments of extreme emotion, and a crescendo of disturbing voices embodying memories from the past, all blend to create moments of fusion that draw you irresistibly into Maria’s state of mind.
O’Kasi’s script also offers richly revealing descriptions of the condition that Maria is experiencing, which are delivered with the perfect blend of conversational interaction and simple honesty. It is easy to relate to her frustration, particularly when it is described in such understandable everyday metaphors like trying to buy a train ticket when two drunken men are blocking the machine, or trying to reach a friend from across a crowded room.
However, it is definitely in the beautifully visual that this production excels, most strikingly in the pinnacle moment of Maria literally stripping back the memories of her past, as she pulls the layers of sheets from her bed. Old pictures, hair slides, and forgotten toys are revealed until the ‘bed’ is exposed to be a hospital stretcher and Maria collides with the awful truth of her forgotten childhood.
Such moments of hushed, intimate and captivating drama defined Dirty Paradise. The challenge of dramatizing the lens through which one woman views the world was met with a thrilling, intense, and all-absorbing monologue performance. This is why my only criticism would have to be directed towards a particularly tactless old lady seated in the front row, who had the pressing need, ten minutes before the production’s ending, to open a crackling plastic bag of sweets.
Thankfully, the British approach of pointed stares, nudging and a few well-timed polite coughs put an end to her nonsense, and her clearly very highly demanding craving for sugar. Theatre-goers take note: approach each play with an open mind to new ideas and not a hungry stomach.