I recently took a trip back to Australia, my sunny homeland, to spend some time with my family (and avoid writing my dissertation).
It’s a long flight. Three flights actually, plus bad transfers. Thirty one and a half hours from door to door.
Drifting through Heathrow I noticed the jolly security officer manning the x-ray device take a defibrillator medical card off the man directly in front of me. The officer suddenly bashed his chest wildly like a one-armed Tarzan.
“We’ve got a ticker!” He hollered, smiling in the direction of his colleagues behind the metal detectors. Pointing the man towards a little grey gate to the side of the machines.
I laughed only to see the man smiling at me. “Let’s get those dancing shoes off, missy.”
I handed him my scuffed trainers and he shoved them in a plastic tray. The shoes and I made it home eventually.
While in Sydney I went to a performance of Elling at the STC. A play based on an Oscar nominated Norwegian film of the same name (2001), Elling deals with the lives of two men living together in Oslo away from institutional care for the first time. The film was adapted into a play by Simon Bent in London in 2007, and well received at Bush Theatre, transferring then to the Trafalgar Studios in the west end.
It must be difficult to make a film (or write a play) about mental illness, particularly when aiming for broad humour. I haven’t seen the film, but I hope it’s a bit more sensitive than the unstable slapstick of the stage production.
The problem with Elling is that the jokes do not hinge on the way that these characters are treated by people in the world, but rather depend on people laughing at mentally unstable people behaving abnormally. That isn’t a particularly sophisticated type of humour.
There were a two great short sketches of bad poetry readings nicely performed, but otherwise the funniest part of the whole piece was a brief burst of diegetic music between scenes; Norway’s Eurovision winning ‘I’m in love with a fairytale’. But I probably found my friend Anna’s instant hysterics on hearing it more amusing than the actual musical interjection.
Australian comedian Adam Hills had a column on the BBC’s online disability resource ‘Ouch!’ where he discusses various aspects of living with a disability – including this great article on clearing security in the US after 9/11 with a prosthetic leg. In his articles he makes the case for the place of humour when talking about disability, not because there is anything non-intentionally funny about disabled people, but because often the world is organised in a way that makes everyday things a little absurd for the disabled.
That’s why I particularly liked the gruff man on security at Heathrow. He seemed to understand the absurdity of a safety system that isn’t very well suited to people partly made of metal.
Adapted by Simon Bent from a film by Petter Næss
Sydney Theatre Company
P.S. I am very sad to be missing the new production of Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire in December. Cate Blanchett as Blanche. I can’t imagine it being anything but fantastic.