Follow it inward

Follow it inward

26 March 2018

 Anne Mullener discovers the tense circle of can't stop can't stop

There is an inherent brutal honesty to can’t stop can’t stop that is impossible to resist. In Sam Ross’ hour-long exploration and explanation of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, the audience get a taste of what it means to (learn to) live with this disease.

can’t stop can’t stop is performed in the round, a choice which reinforces the audience’s role of the onlooker and echoes the spiralling compulsions Ross describes. As we pass judgement on the spectacle in front of us, it is striking that this perhaps echoes the people Ross encounters in his daily life dealing with OCD. Forced into this position, we are made to rethink our concept of what is considered normal behaviour and how societal consensus influences our view on others around us.

Alongside this sense of agitation, this set-up also feels to be the comforting bubble that Ross describes towards the end: the glitter globe’s envelopment that protects him from the anxieties and “evil” outside of it. This tension between threat and protection constantly changes the audience’s perspective on the action, and also explains the duplicitous role of people in Ross’ life: both a comfort – offering help, like his therapist – and a hindrance: “Really I’m fine, just let me be.”

Another tension lies between the performativity and truth of what unfolds before us. At numerous moments, it’s unclear whether Ross is suffering from an actual compulsion, or whether this is part of the performance. He introduces triggers that he deals with as the performance proceeds. As we progress, it remains uncertain whether they are real triggers or just a performance. If real, they enhance the feeling of being an intruder and induce guilt that we feel so enthralled by someone else’s suffering. This conflict of feeling shock and pity versus guilt was effective but could have been pushed further. Due to timed lighting cues and music, it was clear that certain elements were performed. This took away from the reality of Ross’ OCD and was therefore less effective at producing the desired tension. Stripping some of the music and lighting would have blurred the line between the real and performed even further, helping bring forward the tension and stakes that are already at the heart of this piece.

Ross’ bravery to stand in front of an audience and perform his illness is worthy of applause. Getting up in front of one is a daunting experience in itself, yet to then perform one’s biggest fears and anxieties is something else. It is harrowing to think that Ross is using this piece, the performing of his illness, as a form of therapy to overcome his anxieties and compulsions. In doing so, he showed us “a version” of what it is like to live with OCD and, in a larger context, how Britain’s mental health system is failing its patients.