Patrick Marmion’s The Divided Laing is billed as a ‘provocative, freewheeling comedy’. It follows experimental psychiatrist Ronald D Laing in 1970s London. The majority of the action takes place at his practice, Kingsbury House, where he takes the approach that madness is a personality trait to be harnessed and embraced, not an illness to be cured or demon to be exorcised. Laing’s personal and professional lives are crumbling around him, his colleague is having a meltdown on the roof, and he’s about to embark on an acid trip to the future.
The show gets off to a slow start, with a fair amount of back-and-forth dialogue between characters who aren’t The Great RD *bows head sagely*, also I felt too many jokes were shoe-horned in unnecessarily, when there are more than enough genuinely funny exchanges which flow naturally as the narrative progresses. However, once the show gets rolling I found myself getting into the pace, increasingly enjoying some of the more relevant and amusing lines sprinkled throughout the play.
The show sees a particularly fantastic performance from Oscar Pearce as David Cooper, thrashing wildly in the throes of an epic bender, clad in stained vest and y-fronts, spouting obscenities and anti-capitalist propaganda.
Alan Cox puts in a solid performance as RD Laing, remindful of a more charismatic Scottish DCI Gene Hunt.
With a clear focus on these two characters, the script seems to have left others feeling somewhat two-dimensional. However, Kevin McMonagle still manages to impress, playing each of his roles to understated comedy perfection.
The minimal, open set serves its purpose but the whole show can, at times, feel rather static. For a play about psychological disorder it feels as though there’s potential for the set to reflect that in being more, well, crazy. Similarly, use of lighting and sound design felt quite restrained to the same effect throughout much of the play.
However, the show feels closer to reaching insanity during the more dynamic ‘trippy’ scenes.
In conclusion, my lasting impression of the play – good fun with some very amusing lines, weird hallucinatory sequences and an interesting narrative reflecting on a turning point in the career of the larger-than-life rock‘n’roll celebrity psychiatrist.
- By Patrick Marmion
- Director: Michael Kingsbury
- Cast: Alan Cox, Oscar Pearce, Amiera Darwish, Laura-Kate Gordon, Kevin McMonagle, James Russell
- Arcola Theatre, London
- Until 12 December 2015
- Review by Oliver J Weinfeld