LOVE (Watching Madness), VAULT Festival

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By Hannah Kennedy

Mental illness isn’t portrayed often enough in theatre, especially discussion on how it effects those around it. LOVE (Watching Madness) is a beautifully apt title for this piece performed and written by Isabelle Kabban, and directed by Ruth Anna Phillips. It explores the history of Kabban’s relationship with her mother and, specifically, her mother’s Bipolar Disorder.

Kabban is alone on stage, with one chair and two plastic boxes filled with water and paper. She dives straight into a list of things she loves about her mother, and her mother loves about her. Through stories of trifle and bottles hidden under mattresses, Kabban does a magnificent job of navigating the conversations she’s had with her mother. The physical and vocal evolution from herself to her mother in this one-woman show  is crystal clear, painting her mother with stunning precision.

This piece of not an easy ride. It’s uncomfortable to watch Kabban sweat and cry, as the physical motif of rubbing her arms and slapping her thighs dissolves into manic movement offset by strobe lighting, thudding music and trains overhead. Still, the conversations between both the mother and the therapist are painfully relatable, leaving many audience members nodding in understanding and recognition of someone going to counselling.

Above all else, this piece starts a discussion that many others fail to. A relationship between a child and a parent is a topic that many plays have explored. Yet, few decide to peel back the lid on what it is like being a child with a parent that isn’t entirely equipped to parent at that moment in their life. The constant whirr of a microwave, the ding of the release, and the picking of paper from tubs of water all mean that the breakdown we witness feels not only earned, but entirely essential to move past the pain. Or, at the very least, to begin to move past it.

Something that is so admirable about SpeakUp, the company founded by Kabban, is their acknowledgement of their duty of care for their audience. At the end, the offer of helplines and support is appreciated by many. It’s a practice that more theatre companies should adopt.

The piece could do with a little fine tuning as by the 45-minute point of the 60-minute piece, it feels finished. Each story and conversation within it is beautifully told, but not every moment drives the piece forward and there are moments of stagnation. Kabban does a great job of pushing through this dip however, and comes through with power and fire.

LOVE (Watching Madness) runs through 16 February.

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