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Still Ill review at New Diorama Theatre, London – ‘fascinating, layered, intelligent’

Sophie Steer in Still Ill at New Diorama, London. Photo: David Monteith-Hodge

“Does the body rule the mind or does the mind rule the body?” wails Morrissey in The Smiths’ Still Ill, a song borrowed to title Kandinsky’s devised play about functional neurological disorders – medically inexplicable disabilities brought on apparently without cause. It’s a fascinating, cryptic question that pierces the heart of a fascinating, cryptic piece of theatre.

Sophie (Sophie Steer) is a jobbing actor gradually losing control of her body. Shuttling between different doctors in search of a decent explanation, she is repeatedly told that there isn’t one. Her brain and body are fine. It’s psychological, she’s told again and again.

Sophie grows increasingly obsessed with seeking alternative solutions, to the detriment of her career and her relationships. An understated, utterly convincing, and physically committed Steer is joined on this journey by Hamish MacDougall and Harriet Webb, both impressively versatile as a host of supporting characters. Zac Gvirtzman provides an appropriately fidgety electronic score live.

Under James Yeatman’s, the cast have devised Still Ill using scripted material by Yeatman, Al Smith and Lauren Mooney. For such an eclectic creative process, the result is remarkably cohesive: a layered, stripped-back, 100-minute drama rife with humour, symbolism, and intelligent use of technology.

There’s a lot of thought here, too. A moving portrait of a family splintered by illness dovetails neatly with comment on internet-driven hypochondria, and more. Still Ill’s core conundrum echoes that of Arthur Miller’s late play Broken Glass, though: perhaps an illogical illness is a logical response to a world that doesn’t make sense.

Verdict
A slick, slippery devised piece about inexplicable medical disabilities
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