Die! Die! Die! Old People Die!, Battersea Arts Centre

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by Laura Kressly

Time. Generally, I never seem to have enough of it. Occasionally – rarely – I have too much to wade through before reaching something I’m eagerly anticipating – a holiday, the weekend, time with a friend I haven’t seen in awhile, or a desperately needed lie-in. Yet for Norman and Vivian, the elderly couple in Ridiculusmus’ new show about ageing, time is a languid, sluggish force. Every weighty moment is stretched to its limits, threatens to stall, and is marked by discomfort, weakness and struggle.

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Give Me Your Love, Battersea Arts Centre

I’ve grown up always having pet cats and it’s absolutely true that cats love being in cardboard boxes. I stumbled on a Buzzfeed or similar article recently that says cats seek out boxes or other encloses spaces when they’re stressed or in need of comfort. Humans have similar instincts, really. Think about the last time you were upset or stressed: did you want to hide under a duvet, make a pillow fort or crawl into a small, dark space? Or at least curl up into as small of a ball as you could? Observations and life experience indicate we’re pretty similar to our felines in that way. So it would make sense that someone suffering from grief or trauma might hide in a box and never come out.

Zach (David Woods) does just that with feline stubbornness and rejection of direct human contact. An Iraq veteran suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) living with an unsympathetic wife (convincingly voiced offstage by Jon Haynes), we never see Zach’s face, or anyone else’s, in Give Me Your Love. This quiet, tiny show looks empty but brims with feeling in a sophisticated script, discusses cutting edge medical research without boring the audience and shares the horrors of PTSD that many of our vets are left to contend with, unsupported. A talking cardboard box and a patient drug dealer behind a chained door captivate for about an hour with flawless, sensitive performances and detailed dialogue that delicately balances humour and pathos.

Though it’s easy to focus on Woods as the central character, Haynes wonderfully supports and opposes him as wife Carol and friend/drug dealer Ieuan. Carol opposes Zach’s desire to explore MDMA’s potential to cure his PTSD, Ieuan, not unfamiliar with trauma himself, encourages Zach whilst displaying genuine, moving care for him. There’s a brotherly intimacy here that’s lovely to watch, and is perfectly captured by the pair of actors.

Jacob Williams’ set is super-realistic: there are no metaphors here, just the sparse filth that Zach lives in. The detail is in the tiniest things: the way masking tape curls at the edges, the holes in the box for Zach’s arms, the stains on the walls. The lack of people on stage calls for other means of  visual stimulation, and Williams’ work exceeds this tall order very well. Give Me Your Love is never boring, visually or otherwise.  Sound and light by March Cher-Gibard and Richard Vabre match the set’s naturalism, then toy with the audience’s perception of reality through abstract and expressionistic approaches. It’s a jarring transition, but manages to compliment Zach’s turmoil and experimental recovery instead of feeling stuck on and questions what is objective reality and what is in Zach’s head. 

The inclusion of using Ecstasy in PTSD therapy is fascinating research that doesn’t go too much in depth, but can feel extraneous to Zach’s struggle. It’s not about the recovery, but the day-to-day existence and paralysis that can result from action solders experience on the front line. The dialogue still flows, but the research informs the play rather than being the centre of it. This certainly isn’t a bad thing at all because the script could easily end up a lecture; the focus is very much on Zach’s mental and emotional health. The clever use of humour prevents it from becoming a drag, and exquisitely balances the brutality and debilitation of mental health conditions. This is a vital theatrical contribution to the mental health dialogue and de-stigmatisation, and one executed with delicate, detailed skill and a moving emotional journey. A fantastic watch.

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