REVIEW: The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland

Design and performance errors mar a captivating premise

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Pick a side: home or hospital.

Where you choose to sit decides which side of the story you see first. The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland is a complicated and unsettling play, unravelling two generations of schizophrenia and a tangled family history. On one side, Richard (Gus Mitchell) and his therapist are sitting in a sparsely furnished, whitewashed hospital: the therapist talks about a new, drug-free, ‘talking’ therapy that has ‘practically eliminated schizophrenia in Western Lapland.’ On the other side of the wall, forty years earlier, Richard has arrived home (cosy furniture, floral wallpaper) for a visit from university: mundane disputes about what to have for dinner spool into two generations of schizophrenia and a family’s collapse.

Richard and his mother (Dolly Carbonari) periodically stumble across the doorway, and choice snippets through the wall are heard or repeated, mimicking auditory hallucinations experienced by schizophrenics. It’s subtle, deeply profound, and while it doesn’t provide any clear answers, it does set your brain churning about mental illness and how we confront it in all its forms.

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Richard (Gus Mitchell) glances into his home, forty years earlier. Image Credit: Benedict Flett

Then the division swivels, and you’re on the other side of the wall, able to see the full story and the full truth (well, not really the full truth – much is left unsaid). It may have just been where I was sitting, but I think there was a design flaw in the set; I could see right through the window into the second room during the first half, meaning that I could see enough of the ‘home’ while sitting in the ‘hospital’ that I didn’t gain any new information during the second half – it just felt like I was seeing the same play twice. I appreciate there are certain restrictions on how the set can be used, but I think the divide needs to be more obscured to get the proper ‘revelation’ effect. As it was, the second half left me profoundly bored up until the very end, not due to any fault in the acting, but simply because I’d seen it all before.

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Richard, his father (Jerome Burelbach) and his new stepmother (Laura Pujos). Image Credit; Benedict Flett

Mitchell is a well-crafted Richard, frustrated, snide and egotistical; whilst occasionally he could be accused of lacking some depth (I would have liked to see more glimmers of vulnerability – the script permits them) he never stumbles into a ‘schizophrenic’ stereotype. Carbonari’s mother figure is a more typical representation of mental illness, but the way Carbonari handles her slow decline is tragic and spellbinding – particularly the scenes where her scared, confused younger son Rupert (played deftly and not patronisingly by Jasmine Rees) is forced to confront her downward spiral. Jerome Burelbach as both the psychiatrist and father is measured and eloquent in his therapist role, and his distant father rings uncomfortably true, but he remains somewhat unconvincing when any anguish or high emotion is required – the calls to his wife in the hospital don’t have the impact they could have had; they feel like a digression from the main drama.

An intriguing but overly ambitious premise that falls short of being realised, The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland nevertheless hints at a new and thought-provoking direction in how we look at mental illness.

2.5/5 stars