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Theatre Review by Lisa Romeo
What: When the Cream Sinks to the Bottom
Where: La Mama Theatre
When: 12 June to 22 June
Devised by the Lloyd Jones with the Ensemble
Directed by Lloyd Jones
Participants include: Jo Anne Armstrong, Pippa Bainbridge, Jessica Cherry, Robyn Clancy, Meika Clarke, Sam Duncan, Tim Ferris, Amber Hart, Maureen Hartley, Justine Jansz, Liz Jones, Hannah Li Rosi, Chris Molyneux, Caitlin Murphy, Peter Murphy, Margherita Peluso, Adrian Prosen, Einaz Sheshgelani, Hannah Spracklan-Holl, Raymond Triggs, Scott Welsh, Howard Wilkinson and guest performer Ragnar Purje.
Live Music: Adam Simmons, Noah Simmons
When the Cream Sinks to the Bottom is the fifth in a series of creative responses to the concept of melancholia devised and directed by Lloyd Jones. This dramatic style theatre challenges human fragility and addresses the apprehension of breaking point that most of us may face at some stage in our lives; and for some it can lead to clinical depression.
The small La Mama theatre directs the audience to their seating where the room is set up as an environmental performance space; audience and actors are totally integrated. We find ourselves in the waiting room of a hospital, as patients we wait and wait until our number is called, ‘Next, 36’. Each patient may or may not be prescribed further medication and is given only a short consultation by a practitioner who is going through the motions of their daily scheduled routine.
The many faces surrounding the room are blank in expression, looking like distant, lost souls. The audience is directed to move seats, shift and rearrange our positions. This movement based show draws parallels with the Bulgarian-French philosopher, literary critic, psychoanalyst, sociologist, feminist and novelist Julia Kristeva, who challenges the view that melancholia is strictly pathology to be treated. Based on the idea that female children continue to identify to some degree with the mother figure, this continued identification with the mother may result in what Kristeva refers to in Black Sun (1992) as melancholia, given that female children simultaneously reject and identify with the mother figure.
When the Cream Sinks to the Bottom is like a living nightmare. As a teenager I feared the mental asylum, as I had known of a distant family member who was admitted. The topic was taboo and only whispered about in adult conversation. When you are young in most instances adults try to shelter you from facts, causing more mystery and fear around those that suffer depression and need to seek help. So of course the imagination plays on conjuring up your own haunting scenarios. This play to me represents the human dread of the unknown world of mental illness.
One is drawn into this restrained world of the psychiatrically unwell patients, but Jones does not portray them as spooks or freaks, they are in fact given an identity that shows them to be team players that laugh and cry as one. The play shows a touching integrity for patients of melancholia and it pushes the buttons that trigger thoughts and challenges our narrow view that the mentally ill should be locked away and forgotten.
Expertly directed by Lloyd Jones, each of the 26 cast members play as important a part as the other, while the music and lighting are key to providing the entire mood. In solidarity the patients huddle together and are capable of anything; enemies are burnt at the stake, nudity at times prevails, vultures, owls, skeletons and skulls fly through the atmosphere - this is the predicament of the human mind when it reaches extremities beyond the ‘normal’. The ending is unexpected and profound as is the entire show. It questions the very reason of one’s existence. I was totally captured and felt very much a part of this confined asylum.
When the Cream Sinks to the Bottom provides an experience that opens up your mind and forces you to think about the treatment of societies’ many sufferers of depression and melancholia – the lost, helpless and forgotten humans, hidden away and shunned by a society that doesn’t quite know how to deal with mental illness - besides sedating and segregating these humans that require and should receive better support.
5 stars