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Review: Head-Rot Holiday, at The Hope Theatre

Powerful and imaginative play set in a 'special hospital' explores cycles of abuse and asks: what is sanity really?

07 December, 2018 — By ERIN COBBY

Head-Rot Holiday asks questions about abuse and sanity. Photo: Mark Overall

GIRL, Interrupted meets Orange is the New Black in this holiday tale from hell.

Exploring the lives of both inmates and staff in a “special hospital” during the lead-up to the Christmas disco, Head-Rot Holiday examines the systematic failings of treating women with mental illness.

The muted music from the Hope and Anchor pub below, instead of drawing the audience away from the action, serves as a reminder of the calamitous Christmas disco to come, a chance for the inmates to prove their progression to sanity by dancing with rapists and murderers.

The faux-cheery focus on the holiday season serves as a stark reminder of the forgotten nature of these women, each serving sentences of “more than eight years”. Audience members wear paper Christmas hats and are surrounded by chalk-drawn trees, which on closer inspection mask more sinister sentiments such as: “you will never get out”.

Through interaction and direct address (one man is repeatedly singled out as the prisoner “Fiona”), the audience becomes both inmate and juror. They are presented with monologues appealing to their better judgment and yet berated and pelted with underwear. This allows a taste of the victim-like status portrayed throughout and yet also adds to the pervading feeling of “us” and “them” which shapes the narratives between patients and staff.

All three women multi-roled to varying degrees of success, and had at least one portrayal in which they were outstanding. Emily Tucker, who played Ruth, Barbara and Helen, deserves a special mention for her impressive range and physicality, awarding naturalism to potentially cliché scenes. This is in fact true for all the dialogue, betraying the play’s development alongside Prue Stevenson, co-founder of Wish charity, “a voice for women’s mental health in the criminal justice system”. This sincerity permeates the piece, making it distressingly authentic.

Touching on issues such as misogyny and racism, the play effectively outlines the horrors seen at most “special” hospitals.

Through naturalistic acting and strong source material, Head-Rot Holiday is a powerful and imaginative piece that explores cycles of abuse and asks what is sanity really?

Until December 22.
0333 666 3366
http://www.thehopetheatre.com/productions/head-rot-holiday/

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