Liz Richardson and Tara Robinson
The Conker Group and HOME
19 May 2016 to 21 May 2016
Although developed from a stand-up routine you couldn’t say that Gutted, the second half of a double bill celebrating the first anniversary of HOME, lacks theatricality. If anything director Tara Robinson (who conceived the play with performer Liz Richardson) over-compensates with a full sensory experience. To the rear of the stage, films of cooking, domestic chores and families cheerfully dining are shown as if to remind the protagonist of the things she can no longer enjoy. A hospital atmosphere is generated by bunches of flowers littering the stage and a table is set up for audience members to join Richardson for a chat. Oh, and there are also three toilets on stage.
After a series of painful stomach complaints and embarrassing attacks of diarrhoea during which she expelled blood Liz Richardson was diagnosed with the inflammatory bowel disease Ulcerative Colitis (IBD) that causes inflammation and ulcers. Gutted details her experiences in hospital and the reactions of herself and her friends and family to the treatment for the disease.
The play does not spare the audience. At one point a film is broadcast showing the internal workings of a colonoscopy. A friend who helps insert a catheter attempts to make small talk by identifying Richardson’s clitoris. When an operation leaves Richardson with a stoma protruding from her stomach to link to a colostomy bag she is advised that it must not be used for sexual purposes.
But Richardson is just as unsparing of herself. Audience members are invited to read aloud comments about the performer from her friends and family that constantly emphasise her stubborn streak. The embarrassing nature of her illness is made cringingly clear with grim details of the after effects of an attack.
Gutted communicates the unwanted intimacy of being hospitalised with Richardson bringing to life such a bewildering range of characters that the only way in which they can be identified is by subtitles shown on the screen. The fragmented delivery – as the play jumps back and forth from different situations - is a hindrance to following events.
It is initially hard to identify the focal point of the play. Towards the conclusion, however, a surprising motivation emerges: Richardson wants to pay her dues and express her gratitude. After a play in which Richardson has been critical of the shortcomings of the healthcare services and apparently unappreciative of the support from friends and family she concludes with a heartfelt acknowledgement of all she has received and the difference it has made to her life.
Gutted , gives an accurate impression of the debilitating effects of a disease that could too easily become just a punchline about lavatory humour and, being refreshingly free of self pity, is surprisingly uplifting.
Reviewer: David Cunningham