Sunday, 28 December 2014

Jon Haynes Pick of 2014

My pick of 2014

There was only one thing worth catching in 2014 – that great, rumbling, thunderclap of genius: 


His performances are consistently surprising, but this year he surpassed himself in one psychologically athletic turn after another. There was his poker-faced and pathologically narcissistic Richard in The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland. There was his inscrutable yet compassionate Mouse 1 in World Mouse Plague (co-written with the less talented but always interesting David Woods). Finally there was his gobsmackingly audacious Private Robert True in a one-off sharing of The Happy Ones (to premiere in 2015 – David Woods will have an insignificant off-stage part as Corporal Schmaltz). Unsurprising to hear that this most modest of actors has turned down the offer of an OBE for services to the arts in the Queen’s New Year Honours.         

Sunday, 3 August 2014


D: We have a very fragile existence.

J: I’m still eating rocket salad out of plastic bags in my rented room.

D: We’ve been hugging radiators for the last week.

J: There’s no work on the horizon after the bit we’ve got next month.

D: We didn’t get programmed in a major festival, and while in one sense we’re relieved by that, we also feel we’re missing out on something.

J: The country’s on the brink of a double-dip recession and our funding is about to be snatched away from us even before it’s started.

D: And yet we’re happy, aren’t we?

J: Well we are when we consider the alternatives.

D: So let’s look at the alternatives. In a conventional office job you’d have a few hours to yourself a day. You’d have a mortgage but get little time to enjoy the benefits of it. Your existence might be soulless.

J: It might not. It depends on your personality. You might be the kind of person who loves that kind of life.

D: So this existence we have is perfectly suited to our personalities.

J: Apparently.

D: And if we had money would we actually have any energy to make anything?

J: There was a time when we had a bit more money but I think we were the same, just as creative.

D: I think we were less creative. We had to tour so much to make that money that we never had time to think about what we were doing. Now we have serious thinking time. For example, we know that when we start work on the next show we’re not going to go into a rehearsal room unplanned and run around with bags over our heads wasting energy.

J: What a shame. I could do with a bit of that. I think I’ll do it when I get back to my room.

(From The (unpublished) Ridiculusmus book of making comic theatre: Arseflop 2011)

Friday, 14 March 2014

On previewing 'The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland'

It’s a very weird thing, previewing a new show. Not as weird as The Twilight Zone or the Bermuda Triangle or the ghost I saw in the grounds of Dean Close School, Cheltenham in 1978. But pretty damn weird nonetheless. It is excruciating too. Take this morning, the morning of the third day of our run in Shoreditch Town Hall. I woke at 6, having gone to bed at 1, and immediately switched on my computer, with whom I’ve been sharing a small room in a small flat overlooking London Fields since 2010. I checked the news of course to see if there were any updates on the fate of flight MH370. The search has now moved to the Indian Ocean. Malaysian authorities are rejecting the US’s theory that the plane went on flying for four hours after it lost contact with the radars, and in a press conference the day before a relative of one of the missing threw a bottle of water at a Malaysian Airlines official. I read an article on the BBC website about some of the passengers. There was – or is (because, as a friend of one of the missing said, ‘miracles do happen’) - a team of illustrious Chinese calligraphers, one of them aged 79. There was a couple returning to their two young kids after a short beach holiday. I recalled a Sunday Times magazine feature from the 1970’s about the passengers on Turkish Airlines flight 981, which had crashed in a forest outside Paris (a farmer found six seats in a field with dead passengers strapped to them), killing all 346 people on board. I must have been in my early teens when I read the article, but nearly forty years later I can still remember that a male model had been amongst the dead. After that I googled ‘The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland review’ to see if any conscientious reviewer had posted one already (the previous night being press night - though why they're reviewing previews I'm not sure). There were none. Then I thought I should really get some sleep. I wasn’t tired though so I sent a friend request to Jake Orr, who we’d met the previous day after a photo shoot for the show, and who’s just starting as our Assistant Producer. As I was talking to him, or, more accurately, listening to my colleague David talking to him, I carelessly poured peppermint tea all down my shirt. Jake, who had a metallic adornment set at a rakish angle in one lobe, asked us how the photo shoot was for us. ‘We have to be wary of gurning,’ David said, ‘as the more obvious gurning shots will inevitably be the ones they publish.’ This is very true. I spent most of the shoot being determinedly po-faced, especially during the Finnish folk dance, standing there with my weight on one leg, attempting to protect the arthritic knee of the other one, and watching Woods leap-frog over Talbot and Paolini. The trouble is, I might end up looking over-solemn, a parody of deadpan (‘His features lend themselves to expressions of gloom’; ‘he out-Busters Buster Keaton’; ‘he sings comic songs with a face like a Lurgan spade,’ and so on). Well, we’ll have to see, won’t we, when the reviews with their accompanying photos come out. If they come out. And if we can find out if they’ve come out. Kate Bassett from The Times was there. Terrifying. She reviewed our two man Earnest in 2005 and wrote ‘They’re just not great actors…their only option is to play everything knowingly fifth-rate.’ Yes, very possibly true, but then we were (she didn’t get it, which was of course our fault) meant to be playing two knowingly fifth-rate actors who were putting on a production of Wilde’s play. Kate Bassett sat, according to my colleague David, in the front row, but, perhaps a little considerately, on the far right side. That was in the first half, before the interval. We swap the audience round at half time and I’ve no idea where she sat after that. The other very weird thing about press nights (well, perhaps not that weird) is that once you know the critics are in you start imagining them. I’ve no idea, for example, if the voluptuously committed Lyn Gardner from The Guardian was in, but because I’d been on the receiving end of her complaints in the past (she kept on picking up her very large notepad, scribbling in it, putting it down, picking it up again, her response quite clear from the expression on her face, so no need to read the review, really, and anyway reviews are not meant for the artists, are they, they're intended as some sort of guide for the public), but yes, because of all this I imagined she was in. She was in the front row, just three feet from my right elbow. She had her very large notepad with her and she absolutely hated everything I did. Also sitting on the domestic side of the play, but on the other side of the row Kate Bassett sat in, was Ian Shuttleworth, critic of the Financial Times. Except it wasn’t, was it? It was Tassos Stevens, with a bottle of beer. There was another man in the front row with a moustache and dyed black hair and I was convinced he was someone from The Telegraph whose name presently escapes me. There were also several bloggers. And Time Out, I think, was there. I mean I felt they were there. I could sort of smell them. It was, then, an audience made up of critics and Tassos Stevens and Jake Orr. At one point someone in the audience started talking in a loud voice. Not a whisper. David, playing my character’s therapist, stared at them as though they were mentally ill and in need of swift diagnosis and, very probably, anti-psychotic medication. I ignored them, convinced that although the voice was deep and manly, they’d only turn out to be Lyn Gardner. Somehow we made it to the end. We had changed the ending, and will probably change it again, several times. It currently has a Finnish finish: we exit doing a hunched dance, wait for the blackout, wait for, hopefully, applause, and then re-enter for our bows. Or rather, actually, not for bows, having aired our loathing of the latter the previous night. We’ve chosen to nod at the audience instead. We’re not bowing and saying ‘we’re so grateful to be serving you, and being given the chance to humbly offer up this little piece for your entertainment.’ We are nodding our heads (possibly bigger than all the imaginary critics’) and saying ‘Yes, we’ve spent two years making a piece of theatre and that was it. It’s meaningful, we think, we hope, so please go away and think about it.’ And then we bugger off, go for a drink in a Shoreditch pub that’s quiet (they don’t exist) and return to our homes, knowing we won’t get good night sleeps…And then, and then, and then…


Thursday, 16 January 2014

Some more things that may have contributed to the making of 'The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland'

Watching the 1967 Frederick Wiseman documentary ‘Titicut Follies’ in 2003 and again in 2013

Reading hundreds of books on the subject, amongst them ‘What is Madness?’ by Darian Leader and ‘The Myth of Mental Illness’ by Thomas Szasz

Rereading ‘Awakenings’ by Oliver Sacks and trying very hard to watch the sentimental film again

Being mesmerized by the Roy Anderson films ‘You the Living’ and ‘Songs from the Second Floor’

Watching 'The Bothersome Man' for the third time, saying it’s for research purposes, although it wasn’t really

Reading Auden’s Christmas Oratorio while trying to write a Chorus for ‘The Eradication’

Watching a documentary about Brian Blackwell, who had narcissistic personality disorder, killed his parents and then took his girlfriend on an expensive holiday to the States, fantasizing that he was a professional tennis player  

Downloading the Finnish saga ‘The Story of Burnt Njal’ with a view to plagiarizing it for our Chorus

Revisiting Anouilh’s ‘Antigone,’ in which I played the messenger at university. ‘The queen! The queen! Where is the queen?’

Seeing Alan Ayckbourn's ‘The Norman Conquests’ in Liverpool because a character's exit from one play corresponds with an entrance in another and this is something we would like to try

Meeting Ben Sessa, psychiatrist and author of The Psychedelic Renaissance, and hearing him talk passionately about the potential therapeutic uses of psychedelic drugs

Visiting systemic family therapists in the Tavistock Centre who tell us about a man called Jaakko Seikkula who’s developed a dialogic approach to treating psychosis - Open Dialogue – that’s practically eradicated schizophrenia from Western Lapland

Driving to Western Lapland with David Woods 

Stopping on the motorway to take some photos, marveling at the special quality of the light and getting covered in mosquitoes

Searching for Keropoudas Hospital, where Open Dialogue began

Meeting a drunk man in a Tornio pub and finding out he’d been in Keropoudas Hospital
Wondering if an apparently deranged man in the street in Tornio is pissing or masturbating or both

Being welcomed by Timo Haaraniemi at Keropoudas Hospital and taking part in an impromptu simulated Open Dialogue session

Attending a Dialogic Practices conference in Hameenlinna and being over-awed by Jaakko Seikkula, Peter Rober, Professor John Shotter, Markku Sutela and just about everyone there

Tolerating uncertainty

Witnessing Jaakko Seikkula and colleagues disco dancing on the last night of the conference in Hameenlinna

Some things that may have contributed to the making of 'The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland'

Reading R. D. Laing as an ontologically insecure undergraduate and finding the idea of madness quite attractive

Flicking through The DSM IV and noticing I've got most of the disorders

A psychiatrist asking me if I agree that I'm a danger to myself and others and when I say ‘No’ telling me ‘In that case I’ve no option but to detain you under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act’

Spending 6 months in the Maudsley Hospital and finding madness wasn’t so attractive after all

Having my clothes taken away from me and being accompanied to the toilet every time I wanted to go

Being told that I wanted to get out but I didn’t want to get better

Agreeing, for a fee of ten pounds, to be the subject of a psychiatric presentation

Imagining it would be a bit like appearing on the Parkinson show

Discovering it entailed sitting on stage, answering questions from an audience of psychiatrists and breaking down in tears

Listening every morning to someone chanting from the ward below ‘Help me someone I’m dying’

Being ashamed to have a mental illness and not wanting anyone to know

My family trying to understand

Seeing a Pelican book on my condition on the bookshelves at home

Being told that I sometimes seemed quite normal

The book stating ‘It’s all about a desire for control.’ This wasn’t my experience. I felt out of control, actually possessed

Living near a mental hospital in Shrewsbury when I was a boy and ending up in it in my twenties

A nurse in hospital taking my temperature every 30 minutes and saying to me ‘I don’t know if this is what you want but if you carry on like this you’ll very soon be dead’ and my thinking ‘Good’

A patient called Roy Christy telling me how John Fowles the novelist stole his first wife from him on a Greek island. I was never sure if this was true, but years later I picked up a copy of Fowles’s Journals and discovered that it was

A man in the Maudsley sitting next to me and telling me he was Jesus and I was John the Baptist

A bearded lady in the Maudsley asking me if I thought she should kill herself or just put up with it

Seeing a night nurse throw a patient against a wall, reporting it to the hospital board, nothing being done and wondering if I’d imagined it

A nurse supervising the eating disorder patients’ mealtimes while slowly consuming a pot of very low fat cottage cheese

A manic patient called Liz who I found attractive and who told me I was an angel

As I got better beginning to fancy some of the patients, particularly a thickset suicidal boy called Darren

My psychologist telling me that she’d seen me looking longingly at a patient called Douglas who’d been experiencing hallucinations. It wasn’t true. Was she projecting onto me?

Going to the ward round. The eminent consultant (Professor Gerald Russell, whose hobbies include art galleries, photography and music) asking me how I felt and my saying ‘I am terrified about my imminent confrontation with the outside world’ and him saying ‘That’s a very philosophical statement. What exactly do you mean by it?’

After the ward round the nurse who had escorted me there saying to me ‘You did very well. What a wonderful opportunity for an actor’

Being allowed home for a weekend, scoring some dope at the Prince John in Peckham and walking out straight into the arms of the Metropolitan Police

Being taken to the police station and locked in a detention room. Explaining I was a mental patient and being let off

Making friends with a schizophrenic who told me he taught the Foreign Secretary’s children to play the cello.

Coming out of hospital and a relative saying to me on the phone ‘What are you going to do? You have to do something, you know’