Soap and Water

Thu 21st February 2013


Kirsten Buckmaster

at 02:07 on 22nd Feb 2013



The opening act of Thursday night’s DDF performances offered audiences a caustic, jagged glimpse of two lives subsumed by two mental disorders. Soap and Water’s triumph lay largely in its ability to portray a gritty reality that undermined popular conceptions of OCD, without attempting to suggest it could offer a complete, easy-to-understand picture of such disorders.

Despite a few initial moments of inaudibility, the play’s splintered narrative took shape around the play’s two unnamed characters—one male, and one female (played brilliantly by Will Hannam and Anna Feroldi respectively). Their mercurial relationship and the bitter realities faced by each, formed the centre of the play, and Hannam and Feroldi’s compelling performances prevented their interactions from ever becoming repetitive or stale. Both actors held their ground with incredible strength, proving their characters to be just as virile as they were fragile.

An emotionally raw script by writer-director Hannah Brennan fully submerged the audience in the characters’ lightless struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, and bulimia, avoiding all euphemism or understatement. Both characters invited the audience into the darkest, most destructive corners of their psyches, and took a hacksaw to the romanticized public image of OCD as a casual or aesthetic desire for things to be neat. Their disengagement with reality was so abrasive, and their coldness so raw, that when the female character did inevitably get angry (an emotion both characters longed to feel at the beginning of the play), the audience felt every inch of pain and desperation with her.

Interspersed throughout the characters’ interactions were short audio clips of news headlines or medical reports discussing similar mental disorders, and quotations from writers such as Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, and Sarah Kane, all three of whom suffered from depression and eventually ended their own lives. The effectiveness of cutting between these clips and the action onstage varied, but never so much as to detract from the performance as a whole. Rubbish strewn across the derelict living-room setting and harsh lighting patterns also enhanced the idea of the mental disorders laying waste to the characters’ physical lives.

But the most striking aspect of Soap and Water, for me, lay in the convergence of fiction with reality. As the two characters ultimately revealed, real events and people had inspired those in the play. The fourth wall had been broken earlier, when the male character – desperately compelled to 'decontaminate' himself – lowered a lighter’s flame to his forearm while telling the audience, “It’s difficult to stage, but you can guess what happens next.” Later on, he also insisted that the truth of his disorder couldn’t be communicated to “the actors, the audience, even the f***ing techie. I’m the only one that understands.” To me, this was the crux of the play: this was not just a well-written, well-delivered, meta-theatrical line, but the actual voice of one broken human trying to explain his brokenness to others. Without letting the necessary artifice of theatre cloud its message, this play remained a powerful testimony of brokenness, and allowed the voices of true sufferers to escape through two thoroughly believable characters.

I left Soap and Water pondering a line Feroldi had delivered with perfect acerbity, concerning the absurd fact that some people actually “want OCD… Isn’t that amazing.” Amazing indeed, but hopefully with the performance of more plays like this one, fewer and fewer people will feel that way.


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