I didn’t realise at first, but the show really started in the lobby of Shoreditch Town Hall. With flyers and banners promoting what looked to be a legit business in the Town Hall’s café. The person at reception gave me a golden wrist band and led the group I was in to the entrance of the performance.
To be honest, I was expecting to be led to a theatre where I would take my seat and I would watch something on stage, but no. Instead I was led to what appeared to be a waiting room. The room was bathed in a warm glow as if it wanted you to feel like you were waiting on a tropical island.
It is here I was introduced to the company Paradise Fields, who is on the cutting edge of minimal intervention of modern care. On the wall was a couple of monitors showing an advert to the company.
Then the group meet our tour guide, she was dressed in the same uniform and the person in the commercial and on the flyer. She too was trying to sell us the idea of Paradise Fields by adding the personal touch. Paradise Fields is a hostel of sorts for people with learning disabilities.
As our tour guide used the word patient a couple of times then tried to cover it up and replaces the word with service user.
True or False: how many feathers does a chicken have?
What a fun and pointless question. How do you answer that with the options provided? Either way. The question came up more once. But it was more of a joke or reference than an actual question. Why it was there? I don’t know, but I remember it clearly so that’s something.
Anyway, moving on. The performance takes a different turn as the patients (oh, I meant service users) takes the group on a detour. The next room we are lead to is not so bright and warm. But old and dark and really small. The idea that Paradise Fields was this perfect company was losing credibility fast.
The realisation that the service users were treated more like mental patients become obvious. It’s kinda like when you eat a chocolate covered peanut, only to remember that you have a nut allergy. Everything is not as it seems.
Our tour guide was replaced with a service user who wanted to explain to us the real truth of Paradise Fields. The tour continued and the group was lead through tunnels and dimly lit corridors. I gotta say, the use of the space was phenomenal.
It really felt like I was there at a facility. The waiting was convincing, the conditions of the patients and the environment they are forced to live in seem old fashioned as if they had taken it right out of a history book.
The darkness of the performance may have been a little over exaggerated but from the point of view from the service user, that it how they see it. It is what their life is like.
My main issue with the piece was that some of the rooms were cramped. I understand the need to keep things accurate but I couldn’t always see what was going on and I had to guess, and/or rely on the other members in the group.
The premise of the performance is to show that people with a learning disability can live independently, that people don’t have a right to lock them away and pretend that they don’t exist.
It also wants us to take a look at history and remember the mistakes humanity made. If people can learn from their mistakes then the learning-disabled community should be in a better place. To be honest I kinda forgot where I’m going with this.
My overall view of the piece, I really, really enjoyed it. It was interactive, giving you the chance to participate in a few activates along the way. I gotta say being led from room to room felt like a real tour, and the cocktail break in-between was refreshing. The message was clear and well delivered.
Would I recommend going to see it? Yes. Yes, I would.
all photos by Helen Murray
The Madhouse will be at Barton Arcade in Manchester from the 17th – 26th May as part of The Lowry’s Week 53 Festival. Tickets and more info: https://www.thelowry.com/events/week-53-madhouse-reexit