Leaving the Ward

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JAMES MACNAMARA discusses a piece that contains some remarkable theatre, but ultimately undermines awareness of what madness really is.

Corpus Playroom, 9.30pm, Tue 5th – Sat 9th March, £6/£5

written and directed by Maria Pawlikowska


Raising awareness of mental health needs this as its cornerstone. Truth, facts, debunking, challenging, revealing. Art about mental health is difficult. It tends to perpetuate the mythology of madness – the rocking chair, the white walls of an institution, the screaming, the manipulative practitioner – feeding an understanding of mental illness that can never get at its reality, continuing its status as other, as alien, a thing to carefully avoid.

Firstly, Maria Pawlikowska and her cast have created a remarkable piece of drama in Leaving the Ward. The unusual process is visible and, almost uniquely in my experience, is the centre of a dramatic intensity rather than a vaguely interesting thing tacked on to a story that only distracts from its coming to life. I’ve written about devised theatre before: here it results in an intimacy, a comfort with the text that is rare and invigorating. It is clear that all the actors have a stake in what they are saying, how they are moving, how they are relating with each other; they have been part of the artistic process in a way that allows them to really live through this fiction – this sense of witnessing people feeling, rather than acting, is special; an achievement that deserves enthusiastic recognition.

But there are others things to be recognised. White walls, white floor, a round table, a single white bed in the corner. The set is the embodiment of the mythologised institution, straight from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. When three of the characters begin to play cards, the cliché is realised. The conversations as they do so, tipping from teasing to physical violence convincingly and engagingly, are nonetheless underwritten by common tropes: the dominant one, the broken one, the aggressive one. This is Hollywood madness, and whilst it creates some excellent drama, it continues to fuel the myth.

The relationship between the protagonist Georgia and her therapist Dr Cohen is engaging, but it also relies on previous narratives of institutionalised madness that no longer have a legitimate place in the kinds of discussions the play is involved in. The satire of the depression questionnaire – one that I have taken myself several times – is amusing, but ultimately inaccurate. The thing about that questionnaire is its incongruous simplicity; it’s not obtuse or convoluted. And I’ve never had experience of a doctor treating me like a child; Georgia in this play is an adolescent, perhaps in need of a heavier hand, but there is a disservice being paid here to a class of individuals who, in the majority, know what they’re doing, know the science behind the behaviours. That psychiatrists are manipulative or useless is another part of the mythology that needs to be undermined. And the suggestion that Georgia is suffering from depression (what kind of depression?) is also misleading; her behaviour indicates different pathologies, and these things need to be clarified.

The elements that I am highlighting are not malicious, or even inept, but they are easily forgotten among some of the best performances of the year. Ellen Robertson’s Georgia is remarkable: mischeivous, witty, charming, completely believable and compelling. She is the Jack Nicholson of this piece. Her scenes with Freddie Sawyer’s Ewan are especially nuanced and energetic; when she catches his eye there is something tangible, something that makes you want to be there, in a real place, talking to them, laughing with them.

The whole cast is excellent, and they occupy a sparkling dramatic atmosphere resulting from a process that is tried often, but almost always results in something soft, centreless and unnecessary. Much of Leaving the Ward is a tour de force, but its themes are important to me, and their use must be interrogated. The three stars above don’t mean much – go and see it, enjoy some exceptional drama; but think about the problems inherent in depicting madness through art, and how difficult it is not to perpetuate the myth. Leaving the Ward does so, despite its unique dramatic achievements.


  • Jus’ sayin’

    Should have come to see Snap Out Of It!

  • this review

    is some next level shit. if the play’s only merit was producing this then it would have been worth it.

  • always impressed

    james macnamara’s reviews are blue skies in the student review chatmosphere

  • James Macnamara

    doesn’t actually have a clue about theatre. Just saying.

  • guest

    Could anyone explain how being an A&F greeter makes you an athlete?

  • harry george

    This is the best thing Exeter uni students have done in a while

  • Five

    Where’s 5

  • Henry Moule

    why do people feel the need to write this sort of stuff?

  • Pedant

    HOW do you manage this?! “Dating a Chrisian Oxford student”? Ffs!

  • Tom Beardsworth
  • Mr Realistic

    The issue has nothing to do with UCAS. Students from a white-British background get more Russell Group offers because there are a higher percentage of white-British students at Private schools. Private schools offer better help in getting into these unis, through better teaching (on average), more resources and support for gaining extra curricular credit for your UCAS form and better one-on-one attention for writing a good application. I think the issues here need to be addressed at an earlier level – I don’t think Universities should be held accountable for merely choosing the best students for their course. Maybe I’m the only one, but I think its ridiculous that institutions should be forced to make offers to different ethnicities for the sake of diversity. Offers should be made to the best students – ethnicity shouldn’t even come into it. Yes, the more diverse the better, but changing administration procedures to focus on ethnic background (not to be confused with other mitigating background factors) is just another form of discrimination.

  • white

    What is the point in this article there is no section on ucas to fill in related to ethnicity.

  • anon

    Statistics isn’t your strong point maybe? Data normalisation maybe?

  • wn

    This is probably one of the most offensive articles I’ve seen in the Tab. Imogen Scott-Chambers should really be ashamed of herself.

    • FemSocFTW

      Fuck off you menstrual dyke

      • wn

        Me or her? Because I do not menstruate because I am a man

        • Fuck off you twat

          Well you sound like you’ve got a fucking vagina you feminist piss stain

  • james

    This is such a backwards view, what is wrong with the guild being progressive and taking the steps to try and create a more comfortable environment for all

  • $**$

    “You can’t write what you want because it offends me.”
    Nice to see that all these check your privilege types are still overreacting to satire, what’s more they still think people give a shit if they don’t like something.

  • dfdf

    It’s actually convenient as fuck. Cos normally, you ask where a loo is, and only people of your gender can help you. I can ask anyone now.

  • dfdf

    Harry anderson is a principled and affable guy.

    • Leopy

      With no backbone…

      • dfdf

        He’s just got a backbone for issues you disagree with.

  • Dan

    Gotta say, regardless of the rest of the article, she has a good point with the stripping of VAT on tampons. I’m sure the people that argued for these toilets were sincere, but in the wider context of the guild’s commitment to pioneering values, it’s more of a token gesture than a sign of commitment.

    they are gender-neutral in the way that they’re just like the toilet in the room that I had in halls, or the one in my house now, or the one in anyone’s house – who gives a shit who uses them. As much as I really, really, am not in favour of the tab, she also has a point in terms of practicalities: if you find standing up to piss in a urinal (whatever your gender), then a bathroom that contains mainly urinals is far more effective than building only individual stalls. In which case, just build ‘urinal bathrooms’ and ‘cubicle bathrooms’, without mentioning gender. You wanna piss in a urinal? Go here. You don’t? Go here.

  • Tommy Socialist

    “Tyranny of the Majority”…Someone’s been reading The Spectator. Imogennnn???? Have you been reading The Spectator? Have you? Have you been sucking on the teet of misinformed but well-spelt 70s discriminatingly libertarian drivel? have you?

    • Gaz

      Either that or John Stuart Mill.

    • Spectator Reader

      I read the Spectator. It’s an excellent publication.

  • Rowan

    I just got here from the “also on tab” bit and have never seen the building being talked about, but I think it’s obvious what’s going on here: They only had room for that many toilets in the architect’s plans – it’s more going to be the building regs that are the issue than actual limits of physical space – and a “big toilet area” was never on the table to begin with. Gender-neutral toilets are just the obvious choice in that situation, and they’re playing up the trans-acceptingness so they can spin “we only had room for three loos” into something good. Or possibly they’re just using the transgender symbol a lot because it’s more stylish and less ambiguous than the picture of a man and a woman that’s normally used to represent “gender-neutral toilets”.

  • Elizabeth Partridge

    Could have spelt the college’s name right though ……

  • shocked & appaled

    Another classic case of pigheaded elitism at Durham. when will we as a community learn that social mobility is the only way forward in our torn nation?

  • where red here we’d

    As far as I can see, the primary reason for the provision of gender neutral toilets in Trevs is that it would make it easier for members of visiting bar crawls to find the correct loo in their hexagon maze of a college.

  • Cynical Dave

    Surely if you’re Trans then there’s worse things to worry about than gendered toilets? Frankly, toilets have never fulfilled a starring role in my life.

  • Anon

    Sounds like they’re taking the piss

  • prof and the gang

    welcome to trevs

  • Surrey

    It’s nice how you tried to use Barbour as an insult but got the spelling wrong. 10/10 for effort, 2/10 for execution.

  • Bored of lazy stereotypes

    Next time you review a performance maybe try and review the show rather than its audience and seeing how many bullshit stereotypes you can fit into your piece. If you had looked up from taking embarrassing selfies and coming up with juvenile gags about the lack of lesbianism you might have enjoyed watching the incredible talent on display. Rather than commenting on opera’s appeal as a genre and your ignorance of it why not try your hand on making insightful comments about the performance.
    If you had you might have said how impressed you were with some young people putting on an incredibly polished and professional show that put shivers down the majority of the audiences’ spines on several occasions. DOE showed that some of Durham’s students have talents that far exceed some mediocre ‘journalism’ and whether they or their audience happen to wear a signet ring or a Barbour why they fuck does it matter?

  • Doss

    Great ‘sources’, brilliant journalism.
    “A source said: “Shout out to the protesters at the science site. Please stop shouting out.”

    Another said: “Shout out to the protesters at Science site. Shame no-one gives a fuck!””

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  • blackettfan

    yeah but where’s Blackett though


    Where is Luke Blackett on this list? This is an OUTRAGE! A SCANDAL!

  • BlackettIsMyLyfe

    None of these people are Luke Blackett #BackBlackett4BNOC


    I’m sorry… but it looks like you’ve forgotten Luke Blackett. Obviously just an oversight…

  • RON

    Wheres RON

  • Felicity “Bitch Tits” Jessup

    You all have nothing on me! This list is a disgrace! Haven’t heard of any of you! Bow down to me

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  • Ash Protime

    Hi David, You can visit our facebook page https://www.facebook.com/PROTiMEltd and inbox us or you can email us at contact@protimefitness.co.uk.

  • I hate Nikki Ocansey


  • Meow

    100% agree. Personally, I identify as cat-kin. I only feel comfortable shitting in a tray full of sawdust. The guild should leave litter boxes out in all toilets.

  • Dan

    If we don’t know how many trans people they are, because we can’t easily spot them, then why insist that they’re the only users of these two toilets?

  • FemSocFTW

    Suck my dick you menstrual dyke

  • Cass

    The suicide attempt of trans people is 41%

    You are absolutely hilarious!

  • Charles White

    Yeah explaining the plot in Act 4 is really distracting in hushed whispers. Luckily your comment doesn’t smack of snobbery and elitism exactly of the kind the DOE is trying to combat…oh wait.

  • Charles White

    Floor 3: <3

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