Still Alive, a surreal comedy from the minds of Tim Ratcliffe and – more literally – Louise O’Dwyer, is a bizarre journey that floats between the dreaming, waking and cerebral worlds. O’Dwyer herself is the lead and our Psyche (I’ll get to that in a bit) and is supported by Katherine Connolly and Kate Stones as the oscillating helpful and comprehensible elements of her conscious mind. O’Dwyer’s character wakes from a dream – a place that made complete sense at the time – into a world of difficult relationships, demanding loved ones and an obsession with youth and beauty. She instantly longs for the comfort and security of her dreamscape and reaches for the – comparatively bountiful – threads of meaning. What follows is a series of meetings or consultations with her conscious mind – processing her stressors and anxieties in a hope to cut through the unhealthy baggage that so many carry around and achieve a similar sense of simplicity and understanding.
In her foreword, O’Dwyer cites the Greek myth of Psyche and Eros as inspiration. After brushing up slightly on such a dusty subject, the parallels and adaptations are clear. In the myth, the Greek god of love – Venus – imposes a series of trials upon Psyche, the last of which is to journey through the underworld and obtain a dose of the beauty of Proserpina – the queen of the underworld. The obstacles Psyche faces include suffering souls that she must ignore – a lame man with a mule loaded with sticks, a dead man drowning between life and death and old women weaving – and Cerberus the three-headed watchdog. Psyche progresses unscathed and collects the beauty of Proserpina. On her return after daybreak however, she is overcome by curiosity and opens the box containing the sample, which puts her into a deep sleep.
The performance itself is – contrary to the original material – funny and engaging. The theme of beauty is expressed through parodied wellness and alternative medicine seminars, emphasising the pressure placed on women young and old. Each revisiting of the dream world is another La Mama raffle with the same winning ticket and same prize for the same person. The setting of the piece in O’Dwyer’s head allows for much more movement, exaggeration and non-naturalism from her non- human supports – a love-struck dance that one might only perform a couple of steps of when no- one is looking plays out in full and O’Dwyer’s Cerberus is calmed with a glass of red.
The comedy balanced out the moments when I had no idea what was going on. Some of these seemed deliberate, others not so much, due to unclear character changes or the reuse of a motif in a jarring way. The performance is abstract from the start, so it is important for continued audience engagement that the language of the plot and characters’ actions remains vaguely consistent. Such subject matter certainly allows for personal interpretations, however, and this was a goal of the director’s. I found myself attempting to recollect my own recent dreams and their meanings but failing as much as the protagonist. O’Dwyer’s performance has a reality to it that helps centre everything and is in stark contrast to her cerebrally miasmic supports. The set itself is very minimal – set up like different zones of the brain. This space allows for smooth transitions between the worlds, adding to the existing dream-like qualities. Everything combines to take the audience on a similar journey to the protagonist’s and Psyche’s – in and out of comprehension, confusion, concern and curiosity.
Still Alive enjoys and capably utilises its space for exploration of the abstract and unknown elements of the human psyche. Its comedy is sharp and real and may attract audiences that might otherwise avoid or struggle with such a surreal performance. La Mama theatre is perfectly intimate for such a personal study.