Though the stigma and societal preconceptions surrounding manic depression might have been eased slightly with the name change to bi-polar disorder, a rose by any other name is still a rose… and so is a mental affliction. Lara Foot’s The Inconvenience of Wings is a bracing, bleak and utterly involving piece of theatre which explores the destructive impact of mental illness on not only its sufferer but on the lives of those they love, as well.
Let’s begin at the end, shall we? The action opens on 1995, when dementia-beset Paul struggles to hang on to the last strands of memory of his late wife Sara, while his long-time friend Professor James looks on. From here, the years cycle back to chart Sara and Paul’s relationship, right through to their very first meeting when she tells him about a Gabriel García Márquez story she’s reading, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings. Without giving too much away, this short story will act as a parable for the pair’s relationship and will breathe meaning into the show’s title, as for 80 minutes we’re given an insight into living with mental illness.
It’s no surprise that the play earned the triple gongs of Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress at the 2017 Fleur du Cap theatre awards; the writing is tight and to-the-point, never flinching away from difficult questions or attempting to tie things up with an easy bow. Paul’s devotion to Sara is unquestioning – but is this love? Through the episodic glimpses into the pair’s evolving relationship, we’re shown how hard it can be to live with someone afflicted with this terrible disease, and how that can jeopardise the feelings harboured towards them.
Both Andrew Buckland and Jenifer Steyn are equally deserving of their accolades, with the former producing a superb vision of a vibrant man gradually worn down to the bone (though in reverse chronological order, of course), while the latter is electrifying in portraying the highs and lows of a sufferer. Mncedisi Shabangu is competent in his complimentary role, though he’s given less freedom to flex his acting range and at times seems to exist simply to provide a grounded, rational counterpoint to Sara’s flightiness and fancy.
On the whole, however, this is a sensitive and well-executed portrayal of a very difficult subject. Those whose lives have been brushed by bi-polar will no doubt be more affected than others, but it’s hard to imagine anyone leaving the auditorium without some stirrings of emotion, such is the impact and import of the piece.