Gutted by Liz Richardson and Tara Robinson
HOME, Manchester [20.07.17]
Three toilets. One lid up. One lid down. One lid-less. The sort of breakfast bar that you’d found in the Studio Christmas catalogue. A cake stand filled with at least nine delights. Some flowers. Some ‘Thank You’ cards. Red Sauce. Brown Sauce. Lots and lots and lots of Activia Yoghurt.
Gutted invites us to listen to Liz’s true story of her experience of ulcerative colitis. It is a comic and honest exploration of a medical condition that has a drastic impact on quality of life, but is yet to become a condition that the general public have a good awareness of. Liz takes us on a journey through her hospital trips and treatments and, her feelings surrounding what happened to her at different points in the process. Her exploration of shame, pain and dignity is highly moving and prompts the audience to empathise (rather than sympathise) with her experiences.
What truly made this show unique was its ability to share a serious topic with humour, but also its method of raising an audience’s knowledge of a medical condition, without giving off the vibe of a boring science lesson. Liz draws her digestive system on to her torso and marks out the changes that the surgery she is asked to undergo makes to this system. The process itself is described via voice over as Liz draws. This reminded me of a number of things: the bits of A Level Biology that were actually interesting, my time working on hospital wards as a trainee SLT and my sheer love of diagrams. This was a very informative element of the piece which did not feel out of place nor did it feel as though we were sitting in a lecture. I always like to leave a show knowing that I’ve learnt something and it’s refreshing to leave with a heightened knowledge of something concrete rather than leaving solely with abstract ideas and feelings. That being said, Gutted gave me lots to think about in terms of how we as individuals perceive the experiences of others and how we navigate feelings surrounding shame and stigma.
Liz is incredibly gifted at drawing laughs from the audience, as she is at making them comfortable. This stretches as far as her inviting audience members onto the stage to read aloud notes in her thank you cards, in exchange for a fairy cake or a bottle of beer. Despite usually not being a fan of audience interaction, I felt that this was well executed and it almost (we’re not quite there yet) tempted me to volunteer myself. That alone, is an achievement!
Arguably the most hilarious element of this show is the input of Liz’s stoma to the conversation. It is both an interesting and clever concept to give the stoma a voice within Liz’s experience, especially when it certainly knows how to crack a joke about its day job, “it’s not an easy job, gotta deal with whatever shit gets thrown at you”. Giving a not-so-inanimate part of the body an opinion, welcomes us to understand Liz’s situation from a multitude of perspectives. This is also built upon by the myriad of characters we encounter who were part of Liz’s journey. We meet everyone from a ‘softly spoken nurse in crocs’ to one of her slightly dippy colleagues, ‘Matt’. Initially, I found it a little difficult to follow the character changes (Liz performs every single character). However, the display board behind her included the names of all characters and highlighted individual names as she performed them, this was a really useful tool and certainly aided the accessibility of this performance.
Verdict: Gutted is a hilarious, honest and important piece of theatre that raises awareness of a health condition that conversation is far too silent on.