Writer: Lorna Wells
Director: Aisling Gallagher
With issues surrounding the treatment of the long-term sick in the UK never far from the headlines, it’s a powerful and contemporary topic to bring a theatrical light to. Originally produced in mid-2019, it is back as part of the King’s Head Theatre’s first digital season, Plays On Film.
The piece tackles the few days after the diagnosis of Liberty’s Conn’s Syndrome. Her affliction has no obvious symptoms to an observer, so it’s labelled as an invisible illness. It’s misunderstood and underappreciated as a severe and life-changing health problem though the effects on Liberty are debilitating – endangering her job as first cellist in an orchestra and the relationships she holds closest. We see her battle with the diagnosis, and renegotiate her relationship with a world that sees her chronic fatigue and muscle issues as laziness or something worse.
There’s a lot of tenderness and intelligence in how Lorna Wells’ script tackles the issue. A campaigning note sounds throughout for recognition of how hard it is to function in today’s unfair world with a condition that interrupts you so drastically but which other people can’t see. The deeply personal conversations and revelations between Liberty and her mother and boyfriend are a touching window into how mental and emotional health are so deeply connected to physical health, either in terms of how others treat you or the independence you have (or lose) to accomplish basic daily tasks.
With the transferral to film, a lot feels lost. Without an audience, the staging feels cold and austere rather than something to draw one into an intimate story. As Liberty, Corinne Walker gamely tries to bring us into her story, but, as the sole actor, is constrained. She’s constantly interrupted by switches to other characters like her mother (with a surprising Louisiana drawl) or her Londoner boyfriend Preston. Passages where she flips sentence by sentence as a conversation between multiple parties are especially odd and disruptive. Alongside this switching are narrative threads that seem to go nowhere (like a vague hint at her mother lusting after her boyfriend – spicy but not relevant) which only serve to draw focus from the main story here. There’s larger themes of racism, classism and romance – all recognisable but caught up in this tangle.
Accompanying this, cellist Meera Priyanka Raja delivers some truly lovely music, a tough reminder throughout the production of what should be possible for Liberty without her illness. A handy illustration for us of the price chronic sickness demands.
A worthy message does come through, but does so more by its own power than the production’s. With another performer to allow for real separation of characters it may work better, but in its current state it doesn’t feel a fully successful transfer from stage to screen.
Runs here until 5 May 2021