The Fantasist – charting bipolar’s highs and lows
By Charlie Mcbride
AFTER SELL-OUT runs in London and Edinburgh and numerous rave reviews, Theatre Témoin brings its astonishing show, The Fantasist, to the Town Hall Theatre on Wednesday March 20 at 8pm.
Stunning life-size puppetry, created in collaboration with War Horse’s Robin Guiver, combines with object manipulation, physical theatre, and original music in this highly imaginative, surreal, and disturbing story of a woman battling bipolar disorder.
The unique and hypnotic visual style of The Fantasist explores a deeply personal story of mental illness to powerful theatrical effect. In the mind of a woman, Louise, real and fanciful become dangerously blurred. As she gazes into the night, her fancy takes form. Objects move, time changes, and a seductive stranger opens up a world of exhilaration and magic. But everything comes at a price.
The Fantasist is inspired by the personal experiences of devisor/performer Julia Yevnine who has been a carer for her mother throughout her adult life, and has direct experience with the extremes of severe bipolar disorder.
The personal story behind the play has helped it become a vehicle for approaching the taboo subject of mental illness in a way that is non-didactic, funny, and theatrically exciting.
“My mother has been bipolar for many years and the show is based on what I have observed from my own experiences living with her,” Yevnine reveals. “She goes through intense high phases where she is just not in the reality of the world and she tends to believe the world runs a totally different way.
“She is just so high at times she can’t even speak properly because her thoughts are going so fast in her brain. After that phase comes the depression, then guilt, and she can’t move, she can’t walk, she can’t talk, her eyes are dead. The condition has affected her friendships with a lot of people. There are people who have just disappeared and at times she can be so intense it can be hard for people to be with her.”
As well as reflecting Levnine’s personal experience of bi-polar illness, the show also draws on research with medical professionals and sufferers of the condition.
“We met with nurses and medical health specialists and also with the service users because it was important to understand how it was for them – what my mother went through is not necessarily what other people go through,” Levnine explains.
“We try to break the silence that is around the condition. Madness is something that scares a lot of people. Our aim is to show the journey of someone who suffers from it. We felt puppets, because they are about manipulation, were the best way to show the complexity of the mind being manipulated by something that is hard for it to understand.”
The show’s producer, Patrick Collier, highlights the visual impact of the puppetry.
“We’ve had an incredible response to the show and it has a striking visual aspect to it with its life-size puppetry,” he says. “When I first saw the show being performed during its development and seeing these large-scale inert objects come alive and have characteristics and personalities it was an incredible thing to watch.
“When you’re trying to talk about something going on in a person’s head it can be hard to do it in a documentary sense but making it into a visualisation and physical presence onstage works.
“A lot of mental health service users who saw the show and people who suffer from bipolar came up to us afterwards and said it was incredible to see this feeling presented physically onstage and that’s what the puppetry did – it helped embody that feeling.”
Levnine adds: “The show is very visual and also there is a lot of humour in it. I think humour is the best way to talk about any difficult subject. And even though it deals with mental illness, the play is not a tragedy, it is really engaging. A person going through a manic crisis has moments where everything is wonderful and they can be brilliant and we wanted to show all the different aspects of the condition.”
Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie