MADHOUSE re: exit is a deeply disturbing and bitingly political look at society’s complicitness in the treatment of people with learning disabilities. An immersive setup in the ever-changing Shoreditch Town Hall, we’re led through a modern ‘facility’ for people with learning disabilities that is sharply satirical in describing the lack of efficient and basic care that are afforded to those in need. The production is merciless in its ferocity. It’s not a pleasant night, far from it, but is a hugely necessary look at how history has treated those ‘invisible’ in society, and what we have to consider to make sure the past doesn’t become the future.
The main success of the night lies within the shock factor created, asking spectators to watch and interact with the way those with disabilities have been treated over the centuries. The audience are placed in some hugely uncomfortable positions, asked to re-enact scenes and treatments from the past that showcase history’s opinion of those performing. Guided by David Munns, our on-screen ‘escapee’ (I think) from the facility, we watch performers dancing in cages, kept in cots, and are asked to squirt pea soup into the mouth of an actor dressed in a straight-jacket, his jaw held open to catch the peas. It’s deeply disturbing, horrible stuff, but nonetheless forces the audience to confront their own subconscious biases and preconceptions.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. There is an inescapable feeling of hope and determination amongst the cast, being able to push to have their voices heard and to communicate their political message. One does wonder, though, how helpful the framing narrative of Paradise Falls is in getting this across. In purely practical terms, the night I went MadHouse ran over considerably, and wandering around for two hours without an interval is rather a long time, no matter how important and engrossing the subject matter. The modern equivalent of historical ‘institutions’, Paradise Falls might start off giving the piece an overall structure and narrative, but the message it is there to portray is rather one-note – returning to it time and time again only serves to slow down the narrative, to the point where it almost dragged. This is, however, a very small criticism attached to a blazingly relevant and important piece of theatre, aimed at forcing audiences to listen to what those with learning disabilities actually have to say.