Lauren-Shannon Jones’s Viva Voce attempts to grapple with society’s shifting definition of madness throughout the ages as a means to explain her own. Falling somewhere between lecture performance and theatre, Jones describes this piece as “a personal breakdown refracted through the history of female insanity.”
Split into two distinct parts: a lecture exploring the history of insanity, and an abstract performance of a woman’s own descent into madness, Viva Voce illustrates how history and science prove inadequate at explaining one’s own personal experience of mental illness. The high point of this thought-provoking and darkly humorous performance is the lecture segment. With a highly engaged audience at her mercy, Jones creates a playful, gentle atmosphere, explaining how hysteria became a performance, how madness has always been romanticised, and eerily suggesting that the seams of our mind are already mapped out, waiting to become cracks if put under strain.
Unfortunately, as the performance descends into the depths of insanity itself, the play loses its appeal. A pile of clothes on the stage with a microphone, conversing with a cloud, at first is an entertaining novelty, but as the meaningless chatter continues in the absence of visible actors, the attention of the audience wanes, and many show symptoms of restlessness.
Nevertheless, Viva Voce achieves its purpose: to reinforce the mystery and irrationality of madness, and to remind us that mental illness, even today, is beyond our complete understanding. This intriguing performance by Jones proves captivating at times, but sadly loses itself somewhere along the way.
Viva Voce runs until September 22 in The New Theatre.
8.30pm nightly with final performance on the 22nd at 3.30pm
Review by Courtney Byrne