Thursday, 28 November 2013

Sick (a repeat... from 2010) by Theatre Modo

Scared of hospital? Theatre Modo have the cure

Back in the days before I became an international performance critic, I worked as a cleaner in a hospital. Between my abortive quests to find a rich doctor to marry and prevent the spread of MRSA, I noticed that the children's ward was being visited by men with frizzy, coloured hair and red noses. They were Big Ray, a porter with an alcohol problem and Monkey John. Other days, there were clowns.

As it goes, I am more frightened by the circus than hospitals. An incident with a Planet of The Apes themed show– the gorillas on horseback shooting rifles leaped into the audience – was followed by a Halloween Big Top Extravaganza when I found a dead body slumped over a car door. I was happy to be in The Burns Unit when the clowns arrived.

Modo's director, Martin Danziger explained why my fear of clowns is irrational. "Clown doctors are very different. We don’t wear make up, we don’t squirt water, we don’t wear big shoes. We do wear a red nose. We also don't do ‘routines’ or mini-shows. Really we visit the children and normally the play follows from there."

The role of the clown doctor is simple. "We can provide all sorts of positive things. From simple laughter, to bringing a little chaos into an ordered world," Danziger affirms. "To being the person that the child can boss about at a time when they have to be such passive recipients of their care. Even just having someone who is not ‘looking out for you’ can be a relief. When so much attention is focused on the sick child (by health care workers and friends and family), we focus entirely on the well child and hopefully through laughter and interaction help stimulate well-being at some level."

Finding himself in hospital in 2007, after a diagnosis of cancer, Danziger was inspired to fuse his clowning skills with real life experience. "We chose clowning for SICK because of the vulnerability, honesty and universality that a clown could bring to the situation," he continues. "There is something about a clown’s gaze that exposes the absurdities of the world without it becoming an attack."

The juxtaposition of the clown and the patient is a sweet match of form and content. Modo "wanted to show what a bizarre experience hospitalization can be, and how strange a situation it is to find oneself in, and a clown seemed a perfect way of doing this, without it turning into a polemic, or into one person’s tale of woe."

Avoiding that tale of woe- undeniably popular with writers and critics who can't get a date, but not often with audiences – would usually be a challenge for a show that is tied up with the director's personal history. "Being a recipient of care, submitting to imposed routines, the helplessness of it all – it was all bizarre. And I wasn’t very good at talking about it, because it was scary, because it was embarrassing, and because I didn’t know which bits were unique to my experience and which were shared."

Thankfully, Dazinger avoids a didactic approach. Although he is working with the NHS on SICK, his intentions are far from preaching about good health and proper responses. "I wanted to create a show as a catalyst for discussion, so that others could see it and maybe chat more openly as a result."

At the same time, he is not rejecting the potential comedy. "While it was not exactly a fun experience at the time, it was full of the ridiculous and the surreal, and it felt like a rich vein of human experience to be mined," he confides.

If the show's genesis was simple, the devising has followed a complex process. "We have been working with various patient groups leading workshops and discussions. The groups have included patient groups with Maggie’s, Macmillan and Taktent as well as young people at Yorkhill." From this, the company distilled "a huge range of anecdotes and experiences" into "those that seemed to sum up the experience, and the ones that most people had in common."

"The show essentially follows the clown through a day in hospital, so we see her having her meals, doing her physio, taking her observations, waiting for the consultant, and more than anything else filling the spaces in between with all her thoughts, her little rituals, her flights of fancy and her worries," says Dazinger. In this attention to detail, Modo bring alive the hidden life of the hospital patient.

"It’s a one person show, and we have deliberately keep it like that so it is all about the secret life of the patient; what happens when no one else is there."

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