Psychodrama is described as a love letter to storytelling by its creators, Christopher Brett Bailey and the experimental theatre company, Sleepwalk Collective. This production certainly innovates in the delivery of the story, which is transmitted to us through headphones as its two performers speak their feverish, non-sequitur tale into microphones.
Bailey and iara Solano Arana, sit at a desk, looking and sounding as if they have stumbled out of a David Lynch film. They play lovers on the road and out to kill. They wear period wigs, circa 18th-century France (designed by Katie Du’Mont) along with 21st-century dress, which makes them look like modern disciples of the Marquis de Sade.
“Breathe deeply and slowly,” says Bailey, settling us into the story to come which at first has the ring of a guided meditation or hypnotic recording designed to take us into an altered state. The duo encourage us to “calibrate” ourselves for a story that could be considered “foreplay” and speak of a “safe space” but it seems to be the very opposite as we enter their nocturnal and noirish inner world, filled with explicit descriptions of sex and violence.
It feels like falling into a vortex of nightmarish scenarios as they speak of a murderous pact, dead bodies and dismembered limbs, especially those of women.
The violence seems to aspire to critique the voyeuristic tropes of true crime podcasts and beyond, but feels gratuitous, and without enough meaningful commentary, satire or subversion: “I dildo myself to oblivion with the severed limb,” says Arana, as she speaks of pushing further into the violence as a way of exploring it. But there is only ever an endless stream of disturbing images with no greater context or coherent argument.
The graphic sex too, though clearly overplayed and cartoonish – from sweat to glutinous white spurts, congealed menstrual blood and “puddles of cum” – again feel unnecessary even in the presumed attempt to send up such pornographic narratives. When intestines are described to come out of an “asshole” in one sex act, it really does veer into Marquis de Sade territory. Bailey fellates a dildo while Arana writhes on the floor with her legs in the air, like an upturned beetle, and there is the discomforting feeling that we are watching this scene for their pleasure, indulging the bizarre experimental excess.
The ambient music and sound design (by Bailey and Sammy Metcalfe) is the strongest aspect of the production, along with Metcalfe’s moody lighting. There is real verbal dexterity to the script too, and a heady delirium in its delivery, but it feels excessive and unharnessed as we drift from one vision to the next. Even if this production replicates the form of a dream, it does not satisfy as a performance, it is too disjointed and draining, its weirdness outdoing even David Lynch