By Luisa De la Concha Montes
Described as a “an internal stream of consciousness and sketch comedy” That’s Not My Name, written and performed by Sammy Trotman, is a one-woman show that explores the absurdity of psychiatry. Through a direct and satirical exploration of her own experience of psychiatric wards, diagnosis and stigma, Sammy skilfully navigates the stage and eases the audience into an unconventional take on mental health.
The script, which serves as the backbone of the play, is stylistically beautiful, poetic and full of visual cues. Sammy’s authenticity and willingness to make a fool of herself – through hilarious self-depreciation, ‘daddy issues’ puns and ridiculous singing and dancing numbers, warms up the audience from the start.
In the space of an hour, Sammy embodies an old nurse addicted to Clonazepam, her own father, her psychiatrist, her childhood tutor, the old lady in her dance class, and herself (in her many different versions). Through a simple, yet extremely effective use of lighting, and intense facial expressions and body language, Sammy leads us through a complex narrative that despite being non-linear, never feels confusing.
As an audience, we become haunted by the many ghosts of her illness: those that belong to memory, and those that belong to stigma. Despite the dark undertones of the play however, her constant use of humour and breaking the fourth wall keep the audience grounded (but not as grounded as Jake, the director, who actually ends up in the ground of the venue at one point).
The play is incredibly absurd. This is likely entirely intentional. It’s almost as if Sammy is testing the audience, drawing us in through the premise of morbid curiosity towards her own madness, to see what may be too uncomfortable. Indirectly, she constantly asks us: is this too dark, too weird, too mad? Where is the line between normal and abnormal? By keeping us in the dark about what is true and what is fiction, That’s Not My Name builds a complex metaphor for the social understanding of madness.
By mixing memoir, fiction and humour, Sammy tackles extremely complicated and emotionally taxing subjects. These include her father’s toxic masculinity, her privileged (yet emotionally barren) upbringing and her co-dependent past relationship. As viewers, we trust her and root for her whilst confronting the ways in which we may be actively playing a part in stigmatising mental illnesses.
Fundamentally, the world-building strategy that That’s Not My Name relies on allows Sammy to construct a story where diagnosis is as absurd as the play itself, and where we can all be mad in the right (or wrong) context. She asks the right questions and provides no direct answers, assuring us that the only answer she can give is her own story told by herself – and not by an institution. For an hour and a bit, madness becomes synonymous with freedom, and the search for agency becomes the true pathway towards recovery.
That’s Not My Name runs through 22 October.
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