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On Emotion

Published 13 November 2008

Are we the puppets of our emotions? That is the question asked and pondered in the new ‘Theatre Essay’ from On Theatre, currently playing at the Soho theatre.

Of course, it would take longer than 90 minutes to comprehensively tackle such a question, but by combining a lecture rehearsal with a family of whom the son is unable to comprehend emotions, On Theatre muses on the subject.

Stephen is a cognitive behavioural therapist preparing to give a speech about the nature of emotion. His rehearsal and writing process, delivered to the audience, is interspersed with familial action, providing the bald, clear theory behind the piece. When not rehearsing he is treating puppet-maker Anna, best friend of his actress daughter Lucy, or caring for emotionally unaware son Mark, whose habit of repeating phrases he has heard without realising their context results in a few sticky situations.

Each character has their own emotional experience. Mark (Mark Down) most obviously has no idea about them; no fear, no anger, no disgust. His obsession with space reveals his truth as an emotional spaceman; alone, sealed in his protective suit in a vast sea of emotionless facts. Self-centered Lucy (Rhian Blythe), over-enthusiastic and fidgety like the archetypal drama student, is too easily ruled by emotions, while puppet-maker Anna (Caroline Catz) has been suppressing them for years. While therapist Stephen (James Wilby) understands the logic of emotion, he too is only human and susceptible to their whims and fancy.

While the three emotionally driven characters reflect how lives can be so controlled by feelings – no matter how logically you try and look at them – and how painful these emotions can be, it is Mark, obsessed with Dr Spock, reciting facts that he thinks fill him with wonder, recreating conversations without knowing their meaning and adrift in a world he does not recognize, who truly expresses the danger and confusion of an emotionless life.

MA

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