LOVE (Watching Madness) is not an easy watch, but it is a compelling one. Running just shy of an hour-long, it felt like a couple of minutes before the curtain call – which is (without naming names) absolutely not the case with every show at the Edinburgh Fringe. Encouraged to go for counselling by her friend Sophie, Isabelle Kabban plays herself – or at least version of herself that she is prepared to reveal in public. And as it turns out, she’s prepared to reveal quite a lot about her life, her mother’s life, and the many, many things she loves and likes about her mother, who has bipolar disorder (what used to be called manic depression).
“How can I help you?” she asks her. “You can’t,” comes the reply, a pithy response but one that clearly plays in Kabban’s mind repeatedly. The repetition is indicative of the intensity of the thoughts that flood her mind. The sense of helplessness is palpable, as is the frustration for both mother and daughter – and what is particularly heartrending here is that the former has some awareness of the impact of her conduct, even if there’s nothing she can do about what has already happened. The mother’s apology is especially poignant: “Sorry you were born to be my saviour.”
Kabban found herself asking for the kind of acceptance and approval that just tends to flow naturally in other mother-daughter relationships. When she secured an interview at a university for a place on one of their courses, the mother’s response is to think about the distance her daughter must travel for the interview. But there were no congratulatory remarks on securing the said interview in the first place, and I’m not entirely sure what the stick that broke the proverbial camel’s back was, but it was enough for Kabban to plainly state to her mother’s face, “You’ve really f—ked things up for me.”
Keeping her mother from drinking alcohol to excess is an exercise in futility, and in the rapidity of the delivery of the script comes that overwhelming feeling that goes with having too much to do and too little time to do it in. Then there’s the dance music that threatens to drown out what Kabban is saying, a way of demonstrating she is having trouble getting through to her mother for all the noise in her mother’s head.
The humour in the play flows naturalistically through the narrative, quite a refreshing change from plays of this nature that tend to go for laughs to provide some comic relief before plunging back into emotional depths. A large tub of water that appears to contain hopes and dreams as well as past memories (represented by soaked pieces of card) is used periodically and effectively. After so much despair, there’s a glimmer of hope at the end – not a miracle cure, but a raw and honest assessment of where mother and daughter are now. An utterly riveting and deeply moving production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
My mum threw a trifle at my best friend and that’s when I first thought something was probably wrong…
Critically acclaimed SpeakUp Theatre present a searingly honest one-woman show investigating mums, daughters and the complexities of loving someone with mental illness – specifically bipolar disorder. LOVE (Watching Madness) is a funny, moving and relatable insight into how it feels to care for someone who can’t always show that they care for you.
Isabelle Kabban’s mother was only diagnosed with bipolar when she was 62 – a diagnosis which led Isabelle to reflect on their previous conversations on Facebook messenger. The messages depicted not just the ups of mania and the downs of depression but the multitude of complex feelings in between. It was the taboo and lack of awareness surrounding mental health that meant her mum had never properly acknowledged how she felt and it was only at the point of being a danger to herself that she realised she needed help.
Writer/Performer Isabelle Kabban
Director Ruth Anna Phillips
Twitter @SpeakUpCogs, #LWM, @ThePleasance
LOVE (Watching Madness)
Pleasance Courtyard (Bunker Three), 60 Pleasance, Edinburgh, EH8 9TJ
Wednesday 31st July – Monday 26th August 2019