Invisible chronic illness is the focus of Lorna Wells’s play, Illusions of Liberty, which focuses on principal cellist Liberty Jones as she comes to terms with a diagnosis to explain her fatigue, brain fog and constant pain.
This is a one-woman show, with Corrine Walker performing not only the role of Liberty but those around her (mother, boyfriend, doctor). That she brings each to life so convincingly makes the piece work.
Cellist Meera Priyanka Raya is on stage to punctuate scenes with the music Liberty can no longer play: her colleagues and conductor no longer in synergy with her reactions.
This is a play with a lot going on: mother Alberta, an American who speaks her mind, has her own cross to bear in a personal secret she has kept for twenty years. Medical opinions make light of Liberty’s condition, offering cold comfort and badly judged intervention.
We also hear and see the effect of invisible illnesses on others: issues around benefit assessments, and “having no visible reason to need a seat on the train”. A screen full of illnesses that debilitate those who “pretend to be well” highlights our own unconscious prejudice.
Liberty is always tired. Her music is her life (her cello ‘Bob’ seems her only friend), her small pleasures in the takeaway food her boyfriend brings home. When she asks her doctor whether her medication will take all the symptoms away and she is told “no”, you see the gut punch take the fight from her.
The cello playing No Woman No Cry or Try a Little Tenderness gives a new life to Liberty’s story: hinting at what she cannot say and what she has lost.
Under Aisling Gallagher’s direction, Walker fleshes out every character in this absorbing 80 minute piece. The faux bravado of the boyfriend. The brittle optimism of the mother as she tries to believe Liberty will get well again.
There are moments around truth and lies, damage and ability, that really hit home in this piece. Across two sets (designed by Sally Hardcastle and lit by Chuma Emembolu) we pass between Liberty and Alberta, see them together and apart, peek into their preoccupations and their homes.
“If I could do it myself, I would”, is a common response from those who appear well and mobile but who are dealing with physical, mental or emotional problems which can completely pause your life.
Illusions of Liberty, partly autobiographical, does not ask for pity but instead for understanding and empathy. In Liberty’s story, and the asides we see and hear, Wells’s script highlights a topic which makes many uncomfortable. You only have to glance at the tabloid “scrounger” headlines to see the extent of the problem.
Illusions of Liberty is live-streaming from Applecart Arts until 17 February. Purchase your ticket here: a percentage of the cost goes to the charities The ME Association, Lupus UK, and Ehlers-Danlos Support UK.
Production image credit Laura Harling.
LouReviews received complimentary access to review Illusions of Liberty.