Review: Madhouse Re:exit (Shoreditch Town Hall)
Access All Areas puts learning disabled artists at the heart of this new immersive piece in London
"Only a new route can redefine the future", so says a disembodied head floating on a screen above us. It's the head of patient 36, a digital manifestation of an inmate from a mental institution who got lost and digitalised, doomed to live forever in the electronic ether of our brutal history of mental health treatment.
If that sounds somewhat confusing, it's indicative of the slightly haphazard construction of this new piece from Access All Areas. Often a little whimsical, it doesn't always make sense. But it does offer something that many pieces on the subject of social care don't: at its heart are disabled artists questioning, demanding, arguing and performing.
The immersive show makes the audience prospective clients of a corporation, all pink and squeaky clean on the outside but dark and shadowy on the inside, which outsources care for people with learning and physical disabilities. But instead of "impassive, face to face" care, as they call it, Paradise Fields provides educational videos streamed into rooms where the disabled are left to fend for themselves. It's a gruesome vision of the future.
In Madhouse Re:exit, the company attempts to redefine the future by drawing attention to the realities of what it means to be living in a society that's not really made for you. As we weave in and out of Shoreditch Town Hall's dank, low-lit basement rooms, we are shown skits by five learning disabled artists: poet Cian Binchy, actress Imogen Roberts, actor Dayo Koleosho, illusionist David Munns and choreographer DJ Hassan.
The skits are more impressionistic and metaphorical, than directly linked to the narrative. Hassan dances in a birdcage in a darkly shining bird suit. His movement is filled with joy and freedom but his wings are clipped when a doctor comes to bind him in a straight jacket. Koleosho has the audience in a tiny room, to play a Crystal Maze-style game where we try to feed him peas by throwing them through a tiny hole in a see-through screen. The interaction reduces him to something almost inhuman, and by the end he is covered in green goo (the peas soon get mushed into gunge). To begin with the act of throwing peas makes us laugh, but there is something quietly unnerving about watching Koleosho rock back and forward, helpless.
In the final piece, the adult Binchy, dressed in a baby suit, has his nappy changed and is fed milk from a bottle, handed a teddy bear and generally condescended to by Jess Mabel Jones' Paradise Fields stooge. He reminds us that there's always an opportunity to change the path you are on, while the video projections of Theresa May being confronted by learning disabled Kathy Mohan in the street in 2017 hits home the relevance of this all. The Prime Minister confuses mental health and learning disabilities, while Kathy says "I want my disability living allowance to come back…I can't live on £100 a month. You took it all away from me."
Madhouse Re:exit is a sometimes stark, sometimes hopeful look at the realities of what it's like to be a vulnerable person living in this country today.
Madhouse Re:exit runs at Shoreditch Town Hall until 28 March.