I don’t give standing ovations easily. I always really consider the value of my standing up and I seldom choose to. Tonight, at the opening of the short run of Letters from Patient Essop at The Intimate Theatre I leapt to my feet in an instant, heartfelt outpouring of awe and thanks.
Letters from Patient Essop, written and performed by Graham Weir, is a character’s personal journey through madness to health, told in prose, verse and song by Essop. Sven Goldin and Simon Ratcliffe play small characters as well as the music. This unusual, original and shattering piece is directed by Bo Petersen.
I have seen this production before; the last time was at The Baxter about five years ago, but this version is the best so far. The intimate space of The Intimate Theatre is perfect for the show, with the old wooden floorboards (and tonight the wind rattling the big wooden doors and metal grille) and low ceiling.
The set is simple and stylized and it works perfectly. Graham enters as patient Essop and sweeps us on a visual journey into the past, back to Essop, who is institutionalised after a traumatic relationship. In episodes of song, dream, memory, longing, loneliness, rage, rediscovery, poetry, tears and terror the audience follows Essop’s journey back to the world and to fragile health.
I know that I am biased. I think that Graham Weir is one of the most talented humans on the planet. Well, his performance here proves it. Every move, gesture, facial quiver is perfectly placed and it is the same with his voice, either in the gentlest of song, the crescendo of mad outbursts, the in-breath of sniffing a flower or the wordless panting of agony. He is riveting and unbelievable.
The story is not an easy one, either to follow or to absorb. It is at times disturbing, ugly, funny and nightmarish, and then it is beautiful, touching, liberating and crazy. I love this show. It is one of the best things I have seen on stage ever.
Bo Petersen has done a brilliant job directing. Sven and Simon are excellent support for the genius of Graham as Essop.
There are nine more performances. I urge you to see it. It will blow your mind.