Ridiculusmus: 'Every interesting play should deal with mental health issues'

This article is from 2019

Ridiculusmus: 'Every interesting play should deal with mental health issues.'

credit: Bryony Jackson

The duo continue their unique strain of experimental theatre with a political bent, in a work aiming to help the aged

For over 25 years, the Ridiculusmus duo of David Woods and Jon Haynes have been creating theatre that manages to be provocative, engaged with serious issues, funny and formally experimental. Their roughly bi-annual visits to the Fringe are a combination of intensity and hilarity, even when (as with this year's offering Die! Die! Die! Old People Die!) there is a dark edge to the comedy.

Having shadowed palliative care workers, the duo address the erasure of old people, and the ways that their identities, needs and physical desires are ignored. Their three protagonists are caught up in a classic love triangle that's hindered and contained within a care home's daily routines. The intention (to celebrate the aged and explore what a good death can mean in a society that privileges youthful vitality and beauty) is filtered through symbolism, mysticism and the disorientating impact of those social values.

'The impetus came from the American psychiatric handbook's proposal for including grief as a mental illness,' says Woods. 'We had dabbled with elder characters in the past; Jeanie and Jackie, my great aunt and uncle from Renfrew, were the first tribute to the wit and wisdom of elderhood that we included in our work, but this is the first full-length work solely exploring the defiance against decrepitude.'

Die! Die! Die! Old People Die! is the climax of Ridiculusmus' trilogy examining mental health (all three plays are to be performed on 25 August) which has engaged with radical processes for the treatment of schizophrenia and the use of MDMA for patients suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. Woods explains that this engagement comes from a variety of inspirations. 'Personal issues, the mental health crisis and a recognition that, just like all good theatre should be "physical theatre", every interesting play should deal with mental health issues.'

Yet the content is not reduced to a simple lesson. 'We seek to embody the issues in tangible matters of the human heart,' continues Woods. 'Priority is given to the character's situation and behaviour rather than making neat points to deliver learning outcomes.' This approach is embodied by the wit, the lack of pretension and immediacy of the duo's dramaturgy, and has made them both critical and popular favourites at the Fringe and beyond.

While very aware of the 'brutal cut-throat marketplace' of August in Edinburgh, Woods realises that it is still a month which offers unique opportunities. 'There's the smell of the hops, the fresh breezy air and the sheer scale of artistic endeavours, marketplace testing and the willingness of audiences to dabble in the unknown.' But above all, he concludes, 'we still believe that live performance is powerful, unique and ultimately worth the massive effort and commitment.'

Ridiculusmus: Die! Die! Die! Old People Die!, 15–25 Aug (not 19), 5.40pm, £10 (£8). Previews 13 & 14 Aug, £8; Give Me Your Love, 25 Aug, 4.05pm, £10 (£8); Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland, 25 Aug, 8.55pm, £10 (£8). All performances at Summerhall.

The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland

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Ridiculusmus Theatre presents an experimental family drama about recovery from schizophrenia, simultaneously staging two interconnected stories.

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