Society’s response to chronic illness and disability is certainly well-meaning, but it’s misguided, most often because of misunderstanding. Too frequently people who live with chronic illness and disability don’t tell their stories, but can they be blamed? Friends might get sick of the complaining, partners might feel over-burdened and strangers might think their children are crossing the line when they ask someone: “What’s wrong with you?”
But there’s art, like Rachel Edmonds’ two-person theatre production Have You Tried Yoga?, which speaks for those unwilling to speak – and thank goodness for that, because we need this conversation.
Edmonds presents the person in a wheelchair, the person with endometriosis, the person with Crohn’s disease, with trigeminal neuralgia (the “suicide disease”), arthritis in the toe, etc. (Cue voice: “At least it’s not cancer”.) And this is what really drew me into this performance: it’s not about a single person’s struggle with living in a non-conforming body, but about a community of people living with invisible and visible illnesses.
With the help of Martin Astifo, we get the voice of the carer, the lover, the partner and friend, all whom make up part of the Remission Society for which Edmonds is clearly advocating. Sometimes it’s not an easy coupling – the sick person and the nurturer – but that’s all part of the conversation.
I was always going to be biased towards this show because I’ve got a chronic illness that won’t allow me to do yoga (and don’t even get me started on suggestions of gluten–free), but I believe it’s an important show regardless of that bias. I hope the audience wasn’t filled with people like me who already understand that the funny stories Edmonds tells aren’t necessarily funny at all because they’re so painfully real, because what’s the point of preaching to a choir?
Offering comfort and empathy is important – I don’t mean to downplay that – but normalising can progress policy. Hopefully this show can start a conversation among those who’ve not considered how ordinary these extraordinary people are.
Have You Tried Yoga is at The Mill Gallery until March 9. Read more InDaily Fringe reviews and stories here.
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