Director: Aisling Gallagher
Writer: Lorna Wells
Performed live to an online audience, this one-woman show, Illusions of Liberty, tells the story of Liberty Jones; a young woman coming to terms with a devastating health diagnosis.
Played by Corinne Walker, Liberty is a Principal Cellist. Young, talented and successful – Jones’ life changes when she begins to develop a series of bizarre and unexplainable symptoms. They increase in severity, to the point she can no longer play the cello. Liberty jokes that she becomes a member of the ICI Club: Invisible Chronic Illness. Armed finally with a diagnosis (her consultant confirms Conn’s Syndrome), Liberty spends the next four days trying to piece together what this means for her future.
Filmed on a smaller stage, and using only interiors, the play echoes the space occupied by someone who is chronically ill. Cramped, and slightly claustrophobic, the sensation of living in a narrow world may be something we can all relate to at the moment, but Illusions of Liberty reminds us that a return to ‘normality’ will mean, for many chronically ill people, very little.
Written by Lorna Wells, Illusions of Liberty explores not only the complex (and often hidden) world of chronic illness, but what a diagnosis can mean for the person and those around them. Walker inhabits three characters: Liberty, Preston (Liberty’s boyfriend) and Alberta (her mother). This gives a multi-faceted perspective on Liberty’s condition – the characters move from dialogue within their small unit, to monologues, more open and direct, facing the audience. Preston and Alberta admit to us truths they keep hidden from Liberty such as Preston’s doubt over the strength of their relationship and Alberta’s PTSD – the result of an abusive relationship. Walker flits from character to character at dizzying speed, but is careful to differentiate between the three.
In a challenging central role, Liberty doesn’t seek or require our pity, and Walker treads a fine line between letting us feel the character’s pain and frustration, but ensuring the spark of the person remains. There is so much ground to cover with chronic illness, that dramatically speaking, the play runs the risk of getting swallowed by the enormity of it. With Liberty, Wells has created a character whose charm keeps us focused and engaged. Walker’s performance is fresh, insightful and funny. Wells is careful not to underplay the reality of what Liberty is facing either. With a diagnosis comes precious little relief.
The unknowable parts of Liberty’s immediate future are punctuated by moments of silence. In a play filled with dialogue, it is when Illusions of Liberty grows quiet that music takes over. Illusions of Liberty moves across different genre to fill the silence. Classical, reggae, jazz – they all play their individual roles in the narrative. The cello – symbolic of Liberty’s pre-illness life – is played beautifully by Meera Priyanka Raja. Even here, the play avoids the obvious. The cello moves from melancholy to sweeter, more hopeful sounds. Liberty asks Preston to smuggle some sheet music from her Mum’s house.
Leaning into the metaphor of invisibility, the play makes clever observations on the impact of living with a chronic illness. The political and social implications of being chronically ill creates an additional tension, as the play towards the end features the voices of chronically ill people. They address common misconceptions, the cruelty of invisible illness, the ever-present threat of benefit cuts and sanctions. Liberty’s story gives us cause for some optimism, but coming out of that tight focus, and into the world at large, the picture becomes muddled and much, much darker.
Available here until 17 February 2021