Medicine for the Head at the Traverse

'Medicine' Photo Jess Shurte
'Medicine' Photo Jess Shurte


14:00, 20:00, (18:30 Sun 29 Aug only)

From: 4 Aug 2021

To: 29 Aug 2021

Traverse Theatre
10 Cambridge Street
Edinburgh & the Lothians

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Following its launch at the Galway International Arts Festival, this restive new work by celebrated Irish playwright Enda Walsh lands for a live run at the Traverse Theatre throughout the Edinburgh International Festival. Walsh, who collaborated with David Bowie on his final opus Lazarus, is a multi-talented award-strewn writer whose work finds a home in movies, musicals and immersive theatre. 

Medicine, which is also directed by the writer, is an eerie deep dive into the incongruous world of mental illness and its treatment. The action begins in jaunty fashion in the recreation room of some anonymous institution where bewildered inmate John Kane is attended by two visiting actors (both called Mary) who initiate some seriously demented drama therapy. 

Assuming the role of pivotal characters in John’s brutal childhood, the actors draw together shards of his fractured memory, conjuring a surreal Pinteresque landscape where ping-pong dialogue, a sense of menace and increasingly fierce japes bring his distressing history into focus. It’s a dark absurdist nightmare, with pitch black humour and many arresting moments. Walsh is a master of unpredictability, his dialogue veering from bland shop-talk to domestic horrors to the lyrical and poetic monologues vested in John’s vivid memories. The play’s splintered narrative is held together by a magnetic cast whose performances fizz with confidence, rage and energy, abetted by a live drummer who underscores the dramatic peaks with fervent rushes across the kit.

Stand-out moments include a spellbinding lip-synch performance of Brenda Lee’s ‘Emotions’ by Clare Barret which swishes and sways hypnotically, while Sean Carpio’s blazing drum-rolls lift the roof as they thunder and smash toward the play’s harrowing climax.

An intense, immersive experience which jolts, puzzles and astounds in equal measure.

Produced by Landmark Productions.

With grateful thanks to Artmag Contributor Malcolm McGonigle for this review.

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