"An airing of ethical conundrum.."
by Diane Samuels for remotegoat on 18/11/08

The latest in a series of 'theatre essays' aimed at exploring ideas through performance, 'On Emotion' follows 'On Religion' and reunites director Mick Gordon and Cognitive Behavioural therapist Paul Broks who previously worked together to create 'On Ego'. They ask, 'Are we puppets of our emotions?' The piece begins with a silver-suited astronaut puppet manipulated by the characters and looking just like one of them. Something intriguing here. But can investigating the idea of emotion really get to grips with feelings and make for living, insightful theatre?

Stephen is a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist is preparing to give a lecture on...well...on emotion. He is also counselling Anna, a puppet maker and friend of his daughter Lucy. It was Lucy who once found Anna when she tried to kill herself after having an abortion with which she still needs to come to terms. Lucy, an actress, is the early stages of a love affair with an older man. She struggles with intimacy and commitment, possibly as a result of her parents divorce.

Stephen has never formed another relationship since his wife fell in love with someone else and left him. Weaving
his way through this knotty personal web of relationships is Mark, Stephen's son, whose 'emotion circuits are not connected properly'. He has a preoccupation with boundaries and a pair of feet that have a will of their own, landing themselves right in it at regular and usefully dramatic intervals.

The action shifts interestingly at times from lecture to enactment of the questions being posed but never really catches light. The danger of essay theatre is that it becomes an exercise in illustration, an airing of ethical conundrum with actors.

Too much seems like a conceit, particularly Stephen's role as therapist for his daughter's friend. This is ungrounded and unconvincing. Any therapist of any worth would have referred her to a colleague who doesn't have any personal connection. I remember seeing Mick Gordon's theatrical adaptation of Marie De Hennezel's 'Intimate Death' at the Gate a number of years ago, bringing alive case studies of terminally ill patients in a Parisian hospice. The emotions evoked here were complex, simple and penetrating. If only 'On Emotion' could have touched the same depths and provided the same moving insights.

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