Batshit - Metro Arts and Brisbane Festival

‘Batshit’ // Brisbane Festival

‘Batshit’ was crazy.

With a title as provocative as Batshit and a poster featuring a woman gagged and lying strapped to a bed in a straight jacket, it should probably come as a surprise to nobody that Batshit’ is a confrontational non-conventional piece of theatre that is sure to challenge audiences to their very core. Is that a good thing? Well, that’s certainly up for debate. For this reviewer, however, self-described Psycho-siren Leah Shelton has created a work that is so inherently theatrical that it shouts from the rooftops for audiences to sit in their own discomfort and pay attention.

Any attempt to fully describe Batshit’ seems like a disservice to the whole. If you choose to say that it is a love letter to Shelton’s late grandmother, you would be correct. But that misses the large amounts of political commentary about the overlap of sexism and mental illness. If you were to call it an exploration of the history of hysteria that would also be correct. But then you’d miss the fascinating commentary on the role the media plays in our perception of mental illness. It’s all those things and more. On the one hand that might make it sound like a pig’s breakfast. That Shelton and her collaborators have just thrown everything at the wall and seen what sticks. What’s truly remarkable, however, is that instead while Batshit’ is that, it is also a deeply researched and considered piece where everything that is included feels like it belongs and is totally crucial to the overall work.

Never leaving the stage at all for the sixty-minute runtime, Shelton is captivating. From the first moment when she delivers a stand-up comedy routine while bound and gagged, to when she bends her body to sink into her therapist’s couch, to the very end when she is listing names of mentally ill women throughout history, Shelton proves this is her world and we are just living in it.

While technically Shelton is the only performer on stage, it would be fair to say that her design collaborators are always equally present. Kenneth Lyons’s sound design is a cacophony of sound that is somehow a mixture of deeply unpleasant and deeply engaging. Jason Glenwright’s lighting design is both cold and sterile like that of the inside of a hospital and warm and inviting like that of a family home. Grace Uther’s video design is a work of genius bringing clips and photos from across time and space in a way that doesn’t just inform the story but often is the story.

But once again, even in the technical arena, Shelton is the star because as well as starring in and creating the work, she also designed the set and the costumes.

As a disabled man, I am well aware of the perils that faced Batshit’. If this show took one foot out of line of what was intended to be an exploration of ableist tropes could very easily accidentally become reinforcing those very tropes that they were trying to explore. Thankfully Batshit’never did. Thanks to the effective hand of director Ursula Martinez and dramaturgical consultant Saffron Benner, Batshit’manages to weave a fine line that forces audiences to question their ableist instincts without reinforcing them in the process.

If you haven’t noticed it is the style to begin every review at Theatre Haus with a subheading, [Title of play] is [adjective describing the play]. For this review, I chose Batshit’ is crazy. I did this deliberately. On the one hand, it is an accurate statement on the bombastic quality of the show itself, but on the other, it is a damning reflection of society’s understanding of ableism that we think it is perfectly acceptable to continue to use words like batshit, mad, crazy, stupid and dumb.

What makes Batshit’the play so special is that it knows and understands both those things and uses them to its advantage. Is that double edge sword going to make the audience uncomfortable? Yes. But if all theatre does is make the audience feel nice then the theatre isn’t doing its job. The power of good theatre is that it’ll sit with the audience long after the show is over and honestly make them feel a little bit batshit.

Batshit’ performs until Saturday, 24 September at Metro Arts. For more information, visit Brisbane Festival’s website.

Photo Credit Joel Devereux

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