THE DIVIDED LAING (OR THE TWO RONNIES)
by Patrick Marmion
Arcola Theatre 24 Ashwin Street Dalston E8 3DL To 12 December 2015.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs: 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Carole Woddis 23 November.
Profound fun and fury.
Sometimes you just have to go with the flow. Patrick Marmion, theatre critic turned play and screen-writer has produced a hugely enjoyable, anarchic, 1970s type anti-capitalist blast for today, built around controversial Scottish psychiatrist R D Laing.
I should confess an interest. My father was a psychiatrist. And in later years, on reading Laing’s ‘The Divided Self’, practically had his own breakdown, considering his life’s work had been totally wrong.
Marmion has taken Laing’s reputation as a latter-day acid-head but undeniable visionary and given us a reminder of his contribution with a trip akin to shaking hands with a re-incarnated Joe Orton and the late Snoo Wilson – crazed, surreal and often very funny. Was he angel or devil?
On a fictional day in the life of Kingsley Hall, the unit Laing created in East London, we go back and forth in time, alongside alter egos, figments of Laing’s fevered imagination, fantasies and dreams, with Alan Cox’s charismatic, yogic Laing keeping the powers of reaction just about at bay and encouraging the distressed to live out their pain.
Reacting against medicalisation, stressing the authentic behaviour of the mentally ill, schizophrenia particularly for Laing, was not a medical condition but a coping mechanism for those “finding it hard to cope with what is in front of them.”
Maybe the guru did protest too much, Marmion seems wittily to be saying. Through this recreated whirling madhouse of self-delusion, Marmion shows the circus-master himself in schizophrenic meltdown, seduced by celebrity, assailed by outraged locals, inner and family demons and ultimately faced by his divided self showing him how, if he’d played the establishment game, he might have become a pillar of the establishment.
As it is, in a wild, unbridled and wonderfully lubricious speech by fellow psychiatric rebel, South African David Cooper, Cooper and Laing stare into a future in which both will die comparatively young, and the medical sedation to which the mentally ill are subjected is harnessed as a brilliant metaphor for today’s consumerist, mobile phone-addicted world.
“Blessed are the losers,” invokes Laing with irony and pathos. Long live the resisters.
Mary Barnes: Laura-Kate Gordon.
Joe Berke: James Russell.
Ronnie Laing: Alan Cox.
Journalist/Ulrike Engel (Ronnie’s imaginary partner): Amiera Darwish.
Aaron Esterson: Kevin McMonagle.
David Cooper: Oscar Pearce.
Director: Michael Kingsbury.
Designer: Nicolai Hart-Hansen.
Lighting: Neill Brinkworth.
Sound: Lex Kosanke.
Fight director: David Broughton-Davies.
Assistant director: Lucy Curtis.
The Divided Laing is produced by Cabinet of Cynics and Stepping Out Theatre in association with the Arcola Theatre.
World premiere of The Divided Laing Or The Two Ronnies was at the Arcola Theatre, London 18 November 2015.