Fringe Review: Fruitcake – Ten Commandments from the Psych Ward

Expectations are high as we wait for comedian, poet and registered psychiatric nurse, Rob Gee, to take the stage. A favourite on the international festival circuit, Gee has been described as, ‘A witty, skilful story-teller’ (Chortle, UK) and ‘Dr Seuss for adults’ (Uptown Magazine, Canada). Admirably, Gee also remains proactive within the mental health profession where he uses comedy and poetry workshops as a release for psychiatric patients. Impressive…but is he entertaining?

Our shift on The Psych Ward begins like any other – with the traditional hand-over between day and night staff. We are greeted by a senior staff member who brutally reports every cringe-worthy detail of the day in the gleeful manner of one who knows it is no longer their problem. The opening monologue is long and chaotic and almost loses the audience as we fight to take in the barrage of serious psychological problems of those now trusted to our care. Gee’s timing and delivery here is perfect, he pulls us straight into the reality of the night-shift, cleverly connecting each case with his poetic prowess. After this shocking and dramatic opening, we are left with the uncomfortable feeling that we are way out of our depth. We are intruders in a hidden world, unsure how the night may unravel…welcome to The Psych Ward.

For the duration of the evening we are forever grateful of Gee’s expert assistance as we begin to navigate this unknown realm. One of the most brilliant things about Gee’s work is that he uncovers these aspects of mental health, lays them bare and breaks down stereo-types. Gee has the audience eating out of his hand – we laugh as he demonstrates restraining techniques on a volunteer, gasp our surprise at the inadequacies of the system and sit in shocked silence as we are force-fed horrific details of the heart-wrenching conditions which brought the patients to our care (not recommended for under 18s). We empathise whole-heartedly. We understand that most of us would break under the same conditions and this is Gee’s art at its finest. Gee is talking about people not patients, he draws mankind together as he destroys myths surrounding mental health and highlights the weakness of every man. The problems are not theirs but ours – every human on the unknown path of life with all its distractions and despairs.

Thanks to Gee’s company, my first night on The Psych Ward was inspirational. Yes, he’s hilarious and his comic timing is perfect but it’s so much more than that. Gee offers unique insight into a topic which is too often hidden or avoided and his delivery is graceful, respectful and relatable. We leave with the impression that we are all one short step away from The Psych Ward and this is somehow both confronting and reassuring. I gained renewed respect for my fellow man and a deep admiration for Gee’s comic genius.

 

**** 4/5 stars

Though there’s no sharps allowed on The Psych Ward, Gee’s razor-edged wit shines through. Thought-provoking, humbling and hilarious – Gee is a wizard with words. A must see.

 

Review by Jo Withers

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