by Laura Kressly
This luxurious, multimedia production about magical worlds, the ability to access them, and how society as a whole regards magic is a sensory feast and provokes reflection on the status quo. However, it has a troubling heart. In the programme notes for Mythosphere, director, writer and producer Inna Dulerayn explains how she was inspired by Leonora Carrington, a surrealist artist and activist. Dulerayn writes, “reading about her experience in a mental asylum made me look deep into the nature of mental disorders, discovering their similarities with states of spiritual enlightenment and the phenomenon of extrasensory abilities”. This comment, and the show’s story, make it clear that underlying the production’s beautiful exterior there are dangerous ideas about mental health that could have scary repercussions.
The nearly-three hour long production is also far longer than it needs to be. The first half in particular is a heavy-handed, coming-of-age narrative about a little girl (Edyta Budnik) who is able to visit a land populated by mysterious bird people, clad in fantastical white gowns and elaborate headdresses (designed by Anna Smirnova). This act’s structure quickly becomes predictable – short scenes from the girl’s life alternate with her visits to the mythosphere. As anticipated, as she grows up the visits become few and far between until she can no longer find her way there at all. It seems to be an obvious metaphor for a child’s gradual loss of imagination and creativity that the adult world requires, but Dulerayn’s programme notes, and the second half, indicate that this isn’t a metaphor. She literally believes children and those society determines as mentally ill can visit parallel universes. Whilst there’s minimal risk in believing this is the case with kids, disseminating the idea that ‘you’re not ill, you have magic powers!’ to people who have a real need for mental health care is wholly irresponsible.
Despite this overwhelming issue, it would be remiss to not include praise for the design. In support of the magnificent costumes, Act I contains some delightful projections by Masha Yukhananov. The ethereal animations add flesh to the mythosphere and whilst this is not an immersive production, they go a long way in transporting the audience to this world. They are also a welcome stimulus during the repetitive format and operatic numbers in a language the show’s creator made up.
Whilst this is certainly a stunner of a show that shows how design can be so instrumental to world building, its problematic undertones are a significant detractor. In this era of widespread conspiracy theories and distrust of science and health professionals, theatremakers choosing to undermine the care needs of people with poor mental health is not a positive contribution to arts and culture.
Mythosphere runs through 9 October.
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