Fringe Review: Chronically Ill Prepared

Chronically ill prepared image

By Gigi Pinwill

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As a great lover and regular attendee of improvisational shows, I was curious how this medium could effectively explore mental health. From the many ensemble groups and improvised themes I’d seen, none explicitly looked into mental well-being. Most were comedy-focused. So I was excited to attend Prompt Creative Centre again and compare the work of local brilliant improvisors in this new context.

From before the show starts, awareness and inclusion are apparent from the carefully worded warning about show content and the presence of not one but two Auslan interpreters.

The show opens with a check-in. ‘The Voice’, a narrator-like and directional live-voice from backstage, asks eight players on stage how they feel. No players report feeling great. ‘The Voice’ next led an hilarious improvisation about Jurassic Park concluding with another check-in: to which players replied they still didn’t feel great.

Many other fun improvisational devices followed: a scene at a player’s favourite feel-good place where everyone is a puppet and other techniques supposedly guaranteed to raise spirits. Plenty of audience laughs from all ages, even children!

‘The Voice’ continues checking-in and asking how the players are feeling at the end of each new improvisational activity, aimed to make them feel better. The players’ answers are essentially always the same: ‘it was fun but we don’t feel better; we still have problems.’

Beautiful and insightful: how much others may try to help us feel better, and feel sure they have cracked the code to us feeling great. But it’s not always as simple as a fun time, or even many fun times.

I’ve never seen an improvisational show use these check-in’s before, especially so regularly. A reminder to ask each other how we are, ‘R U OK?’ But also a reminder that the answer isn’t necessarily what we want to hear when we ask. Sometimes we aren’t ok, and won’t be for a while. And improvisation doesn’t have to be funny all the time, it can be deep and meaningful too.

‘The Voice’ shows persistence in ‘fixing’ how the players feel and finally says will ‘try again tomorrow.’ This enjoyable show highlights mental health isn’t a one-day-fix trip.

In the second half of the show, players improvise with less setup and checking-in from ‘The Voice.’ Perhaps representing a more self-directed care program.

At the end of the show, a final checkin. Even after self-directed improvisations, and many audience laughs: players still aren’t feeling great. I found this poignant. Mental health is real: meaning it doesn’t end because of one activity or one fun time or one show, or even many activities and fun times and shows. But we still check-in. We still ask. And we still need to accept the truth of the answer, even when it’s not the answer we were hoping for.

Each of the eight players is a superb improviser with lived experience of mental health challenges: every improvisation resonates deeply authentic content from lived experience and high-craft improvisation. I could feel the strength in each as they bravely repeat the uncomfortable truth which ’The Voice’ didn’t want to hear: I’m still not feeling great.

Arts purpose in exploring life and mental health isn’t to preach or be boringly crystal clear, the way some humans want life to be. Hence, art can present a more subtle, insightful, and even gentler look into mental health with more resonance than a clear and easy-to-unpack essay.

‘Chronically Ill Prepared’ is precisely the kind of mental health show I’d attend multiple times! A winning-structure with new authentic content every night! Bow of respect!

4.5 Stars

To book tickets to this show, just go here.

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