Mental illness is an intricately difficult subject to broach when devising a performance. Even more so, when introducing comedy onto the stage. Hope Kennedy-Smith smartly manages both in her production of Welcome to Self Co.
This play expresses the brutal rigidity of mental illness. It presents the monotonous reality of the corporate workplace, balanced cleverly with the agility of comedy. We see protagonist, Louise, willingly plunge into the servitude of mental instability, and come to true defiance of its grip over her life.
The play provides a fresh perspective of mental illness and its function. Kennedy-Smith does an incredible job of subverting our ‘standard’ perception of mental illness as a black-and-white issue, and muses that mental illness is more a societal burden, much like a job, rather than a “choice”.
By personifying Louise’s struggle with mental illness as a “shitty office job”, the reality of mental illness, from a seed to a raging fire, is laid bear. I was forced to recognise the impact of mental illness, in a way both relatable and highly intriguing. Boldly, the play establishes mental illness, and our ability to carry on daily life as best we can, are inextricable concepts.
Comedy not only made this play attractive and, lets face it, light-hearted in the face of extremely heavy undertones, but created an intelligent irony. Millennials are not unknown for the ability to mask traumatisation with laughter. This play magnifies this ideology, tenfold. A stark juxtaposition throughout, between gags and brazen theatricality, and mental disease; made this play sobering relatable; a slight nod towards a societal need for the responsibility of mental illness.
Kennedy-Smith was not ashamed to be vulnerable in the presence of onlookers. Capturing my attention whole-heartedly, she beautifully presented the layers and complexities of mental illness. With very few props or set design: Kennedy-Smith creates some serious belly-laughs, as well as confronts us with the reality of mental illness, in a society fraught with mental labour.
Enjoy your “on-boarding.”