Sudden, shocking illnesses; terminal diseases; violent ends. Horrible, momentous and life changing events all. Grim fodder for ITV mini-series, airport ‘real-life’ novels and Take-a-Break mags? Of course. It’s a fact of life.
Long term illness, though, moves to an altogether more subtle, nuanced and pervasive narrative. And it’s not one that translates well to the sound-bite and the sudden-fury school of drama we’re all so addicted to these days.
Which is why this week’s event at the Gostins Building, For The Best, is a treatment that’s both tender, and true. And, for those lucky enough to see it, transformative too.
Created by Mark Storor with producer Anna Ledgard in collaboration with The Unity, The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust and Matthew Arnold Primary School, For the Best is a new interpretation of the award-winning show first made with children at the Evelina Children’s Hospital and the Unicorn Theatre London in 2009.
A site-specific piece housed on the fourth floor of the historic Gostins’ Building on Hanover Street, For The Best has been created over five months, and is based on real-life workshops, discussions and interpretations – creating a devastating chronicle of one family’s experience of renal disease.
Oliver Faulkner, the boy who was the original inspiration behind the piece (and after whom this re-telling is dedicated to the memory of), wanted to create a way of helping the children in his class to understand how it felt to be facing his life-threatening illness. Together with Mark Storor, he devised a hazardous imaginary journey which his class could experience.
Dealing with the invasions, chaos and uncertainly which long term illness brings, For The Best explores the lives of children, their parents and carers, affected by renal disease through the imagined prism of one family. Through its inexorable journey, we witness the slow disintegration brought on in the disease’s wake.
A ‘promenade’ piece of theatre, For The Best sees audience members shuffled through the building in groups of ten, their guide – one of a team of pupils from Matthew Arnold Primary School in Dingle.
“Children from years five and six in Matthew Arnold school in Dingle are performing with the company today,” Storor says, “and they’ve travelled on this journey too, rising to its challenges spectacularly. For the Best has risen out of this web of creative encounters.”
“The honesty and bravery of the children, and their families and hospital staff is startling,” he says. “It’s their experiences which are at the heart of For the Best. The aesthetic, rhythm and sound of the work is inspired by and includes their voices.”
The interwoven threads of For The Best take the form of a complex, non-linear series of tableaux. Audience members wander through, taking a route that, peculiarly, none of us feels quite prepared for. The effect is of a journey of interruptions and interjections. One that’s every bit as jarring, disorientating and out of one’s control as the experience those affected by debilitating, continuing illness. A life of uncertainties and, yes, that cliched roller-coaster of emotions.
And, within the disused offices and ante-rooms of Gostins buildings, audience members are granted a privileged access that’s as harrowing as it is haunting. Sudden snatches of lives slowly mutated by disease. Rooms of urgent and inquisitive artwork, video installations or disembodied voices. A family huddling together in silence. A nurse, tracing the tubes of a dialysis machine like a desparate addict searching for a vein.
Does For The Best meticulously detail the advancing stages of the disease in medical set-pieces? No. The piece is strongest when it deals with the minutiae of existence: of how utterly the sense of self is stripped from patients undergoing prolonged and invasive treatments.
Would it translate to a three part cliff-hanger mini-series? Not at all. Sometimes life, and death, refuse to play by the rules.
For The Best, to 28 November
4th Floor, Gostins Building, Hanover Street
Tickets: £10.00 / £6.00 concessions/children, £5 School price.