The Inconvenience of Wings

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The Inconvenience of Wings
Published 13 Aug 2017

From a glance at the programme, Lara Foot’s play feels more suited to the Edinburgh International Festival: it’s the work of South Africa’s best-known playwright, starring two of its most famous actors. Still, it’s the Fringe’s gain. Its intricately-written exploration of mental illness is lit up by two fascinating performances.

At the play’s heart is Sara who, as played by the brilliant Jennifer Steyn, has a personality that’s expansive and strong enough to soak up the lives around her. She holds her husband and his old friend, a Professor in psychiatry, rapt, unable to leave her however much she tests them. Because she also has bipolar disorder, which tears her from unpredictable rage to suicide attempts to wild spending sprees.

Manic depression has been rebranded as bipolar disorder, and with that name-change there’s been a small softening of the harsh stereotypes that used to be attached to it. But Lara Foot’s play feels like a legacy of older perceptions of mental illness: there's something that's oddly glamourised about Sara's lyrical visions and self-destructive path. 

Opposite her, Andrew Buckland is compelling as Paul, growing visibly younger as the play’s timespan moves backwards from 1994 to the couple’s first meeting. Mncedisi Shabangu's performance as Professor James is less so: it's an odd role, that feels like an excuse for Foot to inject the play with theories from writers like Oliver Sacks.

Mental illness can be mundane and soul-sapping as well as extravagantly wild, and that's a truth that Foot's play sacrifices: what's gained are moments of lyrical beauty.