Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Fantasist

The Fantasist centres around an individual struggle for control over mental illness: specifically looking at bi-polar in its more manic phase, it combines puppetry, physical theatre and humour to describe the interior state of a patient who embraces the thrill of abandonment. While Theatre Temoin acknowledge that this is their first use of puppets, they take full advantage of the inanimate characters to present a world unfamiliar, frightening and funny.

Mental states, especially bad mental health, are notoriously difficult to display in art. Fortunately, The Fantasist does not follow the typical show business "undefined mental illness" stereotype, and in a superb performance by Julia Yevnine, reveals the enthusiasm and intensity of a manic fugue. The looming appearance of a larger than life male puppet, who has echoes of Bluebeard, are threatening: if the comic interludes, including a song about the dangers and delights of being seduced, sometimes break the mood, they maintain the heightened awareness of the main character.

Director Ailin Conant and her devising team of Yevnine, Cat Gerrard and Julia Correa picture the heroine's broken sensitivity to time and communication: a friendship is damaged, a nurse dismissed through the same conversation happening simultaneously on-stage but apart in real time. The ambiguity of the ending, when the real and the fantastic are finally confused, emphasises how bi-polar is not easily cured. Its connection to creativity and inevitable destructiveness are identified succinctly: Yevnine's Louise is both artist and patient, and it is the tension between the two that forces her to question whether the real is better than the hallucination.

There are a few weak points in the production: Yevnine's performance is so powerful that it reduces the others to bit-part players, and the nurse's imprecations are unconvincing against the magic of the imagined world portrayed by the puppets; the manipulation of certain objects is relatively clumsy against the puppet work. Yet the aims of representing the bi-polar mind on stage, and following an individual story towards a conclusion are successful. This is one play that elucidates rather than mystifies the workings of the unbalanced mind.

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