- Gareth K Vile
- 11 August 2021
Domhnall Gleeson stars in Enda Walsh's scathing International Festival play about institutional abuse, personal history and false therapy
Raw, absurdist and scathing, Medicine has writer and director Enda Walsh combining a Joycean poetic flair with an inventive Belgian-style dramaturgy to castigate society's treatment of the marginalised. Beginning with a surreal meeting between protagonist John Kane (Domhnall Gleeson), two actors and a drummer, Walsh's script imagines an investigation into Kane's biography that appears to be therapeutic but becomes an oppressive manipulation of his neural atypicality.
This disorientated introduction very slowly reveals the interview's purpose: Kane is a patient in an institution and, following a series of incidents in his youth, has been hidden away all this time. Strong ensemble performances ensure that despite an overpowering sense of alienation and incoherence, the gradual exposure of this process' ulterior motivation is elegantly paced. Clare Barrett's Mary is a monster of egotism, clearly willing to sacrifice compassion to execute the interview 'professionally', while even the more sympathetic conduct of Aoife Duffin's character (also called Mary) is caught between sincerity and a performance. Reality is constantly undermined by the Marys' shifts in roles and intentions, while Kane's quest to understand his situation is a painful trawl through personal history and the strategies of this false therapy.
If Walsh's script draws on the lush tradition of Joyce's playful use of language – and Beckett's convoluted dialogues and sense of cosmic meaningless – the direction places the action in a disjointed, episodic structure. This framework enlists popular music, sung or mimed interludes, ferocious drumming to accompany monologues, and a consistent blurring of the line between levels of performance. With a relentless attention to details of Kane's systemic exploitation, its moments of poetic beauty are all the more potent within this explicit condemnation of the abuse suffered by those deemed unfit for society.
Medicine, Traverse Theatre, until Sunday 29 August (not Mondays), various times, £32–£37.