A psychological disorder can be so consuming and personal that it seems impossible to believe that it can ever be properly understood by someone who does not have it. Equally, people may be reluctant to accept that such people could ever share an understanding with someone who does suffer from such an affliction. That is what Sam Ross is trying to challenge with Can’t Stop Can’t Stop, an immersive experience at C Royale that gives its audience an impression of what life is like for someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
With a small, intimate space and performed in the round, the audience play a key role in the show – similar to Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing which toured last year. Our mere presence is an obvious intimidation, surrounding Ross as he performs (“It’s too much, Edinburgh Press are in tonight…”). Unable to face everyone yet also unable to avoid anyone, it suggests an inescapable feeling of judgement. The performance consists of an explanation, both scientific and emotional, of the different types of OCD. It is made up of scenes in which Sam talks to a psychiatrist, as well as others in which he recounts incidents where his disorder has interfered with his life.
In those scenes in which he seeks help, he speaks calmly into a microphone to separate this character from himself. The supportive and patient booming voice engulfs the audience, almost godlike; a sensible voice trying to cut through the mental chaos. Aside from this though, Ross’s performance contains few gimmicks or characters. By using a sincere approach with no bells and whistles attached, the audience get a far clearer idea of what it is like to go through every day and feel the need to follow a cycle of activity triggered by the most minor of things – without any ability to stop it.
The experience that Ross shares is not a sob story about his childhood, but an honest account of his day-to-day life. Even when discussing how his condition conflicts with his studies and the support he has yet to receive, he is not angry, but exhausted and impatient. Saying “I just want it to be done”, he speaks of therapy as though OCD is merely a thorn that needs to be pulled out. Uniquely expressive and earnest, Can’t Stop Can’t Stop is an intensely affecting piece of theatre that provokes understanding and empathy in a time where that is in short supply.