Writer: Nick Walker and Olivia Winteringham
Director: Graeme Rose
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
We often talk about theatre getting inside our head. Kiln’s A Journey Round My Skull takes that one step further, firstly giving us a guided tour of how the brain works and then taking us on an immersive journey inside our skull.
We are in a psychiatrist’s office where a surgeon explains to us the nature of our illness. We hear of the problems we’ve been facing with memory loss and audio hallucinations. She though has a solution. She is going to remove the tumour in our brain that is causing the problem.
As the monologue unfolds, however, we find that this doctor/patient relationship is more complex. As she guides us back through our forgotten memories it becomes clear she is in love with her patient, a patient that often can’t remember who they are. She faces the dilemma of saving her love one’s life by operating but in the process risks losing the very essence she loves.
It’s a poetic and intricately woven tale, based in part on a true Hungarian story from the early 20th Century. Co-writer and performer Olivia Winteringham is compelling as the surgeon, delivering her fact-heavy dialogue with real compassion. There’s a sense of authority but also a tenderness and reassurance.
The journey inside our own head though begins in earnest when we are asked to don headphones in preparation for our surgery. We’re explained to that it will be a local anaesthetic to be able to monitor brain function and as classical music plays we begin to hear the sounds of surgery. Those with a medical phobia may find the soundtrack uncomfortable but the soundscape we hear as ‘our’ skull is opened up to remove the surgery is overwhelming. Mixed in with Winteringham’s live voice, it is an effective way to draw us further into the story.
Ultimately we are left wondering who the patient is and who the patient in need of help is. It’s a complex and wordy piece that needs attention but a piece that will remain in your head long after you’ve left the theatre.