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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Takin' Over the Asylum, theatre review

Published in the Guardian

Citizens, Glasgow/Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh co-production

Three stars

WE'RE in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest territory – but instead of Jack Nicholson finding method in the madness, here we have Eddie, a hospital radio DJ, discovering the insanity of the psychiatric system.

Like Ken Kesey's book, Donna Franceschild's bittersweet comedy, based on her own 1994 TV series, stands as a metaphor for authoritarian oppression. When the self-styled Ready Eddie: the Soul Survivor starts playing his treasured collection of Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke originals at St Jude's psychiatric hospital, he realises the main obstacle in his path is not anyone's bipolar disorder, OCD or schizophrenia, but the psychopathic control of the institution.

Every chance the residents get for therapeutic self-help – be it petting kittens, cleaning windows or letting their voice be heard on the station – is quashed by a system more concerned with budgets, health-and-safety rules and bureaucratic efficiencies. Takin' Over the Asylum doesn't have the revolutionary fervour of Cuckoo's Nest, but its heart is in the same place.

More touchingly, it illustrates the fragility of the human psyche. Franceschild shows how much behaviour is explicable in social as well as medical terms. Like the alcoholism of the supposedly sane DJ, the patients' self-harming and obsessive cleaning are symptoms of life experiences. Behind Franceschild's brash, confrontational jokes is a plea for understanding of the damage done by circumstance.

If there's a weakness, it's that the stakes rarely feel high enough. The show is funny and sad, but the story fights shy of the extremes of comedy and tragedy. Mark Thomson's Citz/Lyceum co-production, however, is blessed with a strong ensemble cast, including lively performances from Iain Robertson as the downtrodden DJ and Brian Vernel as his hyperactive sidekick Campbell.
© Mark Fisher, 2013
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