Am I A Terrible Person?
Spun Glass Theatre
Physical illnesses provoke a sympathetic response. The symptoms are visible, and the person suffering is perceived as an injured innocent who may have had an accident or been exposed to germs through no fault of their own. Mental illnesses, with no outward sign of the symptoms, are not always easy to recognise and have a sense of self-infliction or even self-indulgence. There is the less sympathetic judgemental urge to suggest the patient ought to just cheer up or pull themselves together.
Ant Lightfoot‘s monologue Am I A Terrible Person? takes a highly subjective approach to promoting understanding by pulling the audience into the confused mind of someone living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and clinical depression.
The approach pushes sympathy to breaking point; just as would happen in real life. The opening sequence is a lengthy recitation of self-absorbed concerns as Lightfoot worries about how he is perceived by others in the needy tone of a child ("Am I annoying you?"). Just as the low self-esteem becomes cloying and claustrophobic, a degree of self-awareness creeps in and the list becomes surreal and absurd with Lightfoot worrying if he is seen as a spider-monkey.
Am I A Terrible Person? is a stark depiction of how mental illness can absorb the life of a sufferer. Some of the scenes are static images suggesting the person suffering from OCD is unable to move forward; blocked by their obsessions. Listening to a Tom Jones track becomes an ordeal as the lyric "I want to die" sticks in the memory on repeat.
Lightfoot emphases the sheer waste involved in being unable to complete simple tasks; deciding what to pack in a suitcase becomes impossible due to being overwhelmed by the range of options. There is an atmosphere of weariness, even exhaustion. Rather than bathing and washing for reasons of hygiene, the tasks become complex, compulsive rituals that have to be completed in a prescribed manner.
The highly personal approach taken in Am I A Terrible Person? makes for an unflinching look at a subject that could be perceived as a quirky personality trait rather than a debilitating illness.
Reviewer: David Cunningham