16 January 2018

Sill Ill at New Diorama Theatre gripped, interested and impressed

I had been meaning to go to New Diorama Theatre for some time and, for some reason, Still Ill was the one that swung it. I think it was because it was about Functional Neurological Disorder which seemed like an interesting topic. It was the third or fourth play I had been on brain disorders, no idea why that is!

The theatre is close to Euston Tower a part of London stuffed with offices which means that it is busy during the day but dead at night. That meant that by best food option was whatever the theatre cafe had left which proved to be sufficient.

The theatre was reasonably large and pretty full, possibly sold out, but the usual good planning got me an unreserved seat in the front row. That cost me a very kind £15. At that sort of price I can afford to take risks with unknown plays and companies.

The stage was set with just a medical bed. Sophie Steer climbed on to it and was given a physical examination of the legs by Hamish MacDougall and then a similar one by Harriet Webb. Sophie played the patient throughout but Hamish and Harriet played multiple roles so you had to keep your wits about you.

Adding a touch more complexity, the patient was an actress who was trying for a part in a medical drama so we had art mimicking life. The play within the play went down particularly well with the audience, particularly when Sophie was given ridiculous stage directions, so I suspect that many of them were drama students. Personally I found the pretend medical theme a little distracting from the real medical one, but I could forgive it as it was a lot of fun.

In the main story Sophie developed symptoms such as a permanently clenched fist, that she had no conscious control over and for which there was no obvious physical cause, lots and lots of tests but all with negative results. Driving the agony of the search for a reason was the recent death of Sophie's mother who had had a brain tumour that had gone unnoticed until too late.

The approach taken by Kadinsky, the production company, reminded me a little of Analogue who also used things like TV screens to great effect in Beachy Head but then got carried away and let the theatre get in the way of the story with 2401 Objects. Here I think that Kadinsky kept to the right side of the line but it got a little close at times.

Minor gripes aside, Still Ill was a gripping story made the more powerful by it's medical accuracy and the more relevant by the large number of people who suffer from some form of Functional Neurological Disorder and the little that can be done to address it.

The story gripped me, the subject matter interested me and the performance impressed me. Still Ill was a fine evening in the theatre-goers office.

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