Review of “Tomorrow I was Always A Lion” – Arcola Theatre, London

Writer: Vladimir Shcherban (based on the memoirs of Arnhild Lauveng)
Director: Vladimir Shcherban
Reviewer: Pennie Quinton

lion‘Tomorrow I was always a lion’ currently showing at the Arcola Theatre, produced by the Belarus Free Theatre, is an innovative dramatic realization of ‘A Road Back from Schizophrenia’ the memoir written by Norwegian psychologist Arnhild Lauveng of her ten year journey in overcoming schizophrenia.

The main protagonist Arnhild is played by five actors throughout the performance, which succinctly symbolizes the dislocation and disassociation she experiences as a result of her illness. We are introduced to the tyrannical captain, a manifestation of her self-loathing who violently punishes her, and then are led by Arnhild into the forest where she is surrounded by the snarling wolves that terrorize her.

Collages made of lighting gels held over concealed cameras inside a ‘Latin dictionary’, (one of the Christmas presents Arnhild requests as a young girl along with a cuddly toy) projects a nightmarish Grimm’s forest; reminiscent of the cut out silhouettes by Polish children’s book illustrator Jan Pieńkowski. Each actor holds a Latin dictionary as they enact for us yet another manifestation of Arnhild’s memory. Inside the dictionary the concealed cameras project distorted close ups of the actor’s faces so we are both close to her anguish but also distanced from it.

The cameras are also perhaps symbolic of the paranoia that can accompany some states of psychosis, a common belief that hidden cameras are planted in the body to spy or fears of being controlled through the fillings in teeth are often reported by sufferers of psychosis.

‘Tomorrow I was always a lion’, is also Arnhild’s travail through Norway’s psychiatric system, she once spent up to a year incarcerated in a hospital and was routinely restrained and on some occasions abused by male staff. The long term trauma caused to Arnhild from being restrained is poignantly conveyed when she says ‘Even today my wrists still hurt when I see policemen which happens a lot while working as a psychologist’.

As well as the creative portrayal of dislocation, a sharp ironic humour runs through the production shown in lines such as ‘Home is where your tooth brush is’. Arnhild’s response to her psychiatrist’s question to assess her awareness of reality. Or Arnhild’s failed escape attempt as she is chaperoned around the hospital grounds by a nurse who is also a triathlete that she can’t outrun. After watching the production my only criticism overall, was whether it was ethical to use actual footage of an African American woman in an alleged psychotic state being forcibly restrained by male police officers. Perhaps this use of the footage acts as a reminder to the audience that ‘Tomorrow I was always a lion’ is not just an extraordinary piece of theatre but is based on an actual situations, that are endured by many people in our society every day. As we left the theatre space at the end, local campaigners handed out postcards asking us to write to our MPs to ban the use of forcible restraints in the East London mental Health Trust, another reminder of the crisis in care for people suffering mental illness.

The production is a powerful piece of theatre intelligent and well realised. I was still on the brink of tears while queuing for a drink in the bar at the end. The actors received three encores on the press night but after giving a performance like that I can only think they deserved four.

Tomorrow I was always a lion, is on at the Arcola Theatre until 29 October 2016 and then transfers to the Albany Theatre on Nov 1 Tomorrow I was always a lion.docx



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