Mental illness can be very hard to depict on the stage. It can be tackled head on or a more abstract and surreal approach can expose the obscure and dramatic nature of the affliction. The Temptation of St. Anthony definitely goes for the latter with a surreal and abstract representation. The story draws parallels to the legend of a man who lived approximately 1700 years ago. He isolated himself from society and travelled through the Egyptian desert. During this time he encountered spiritual demons and was believed to be possessed. The show tackles the subject of ‘spirit possession’ through narrative drama, physical theatre and traditional music and mantras.
The Temptation of St. Anthony begins in the Edinburgh Spiritual Emerging Support Group. We know this as it written on a blackboard to the back of the performance space. We do not stay here long as the five performers of The Mechanical Animal Corporation Theatre Company play with time, space and narrative to convey the topic of possession and the difficulty of tackling an illness that crosses the line between medicine and religion. At times The Temptation of St. Anthony can be difficult to follow, as we go back and forth between several narratives. This however is the nature of the illness they are depicting. The use of mantra’s and traditional song is effective in taking the drama into the realms of demonic possession, whilst also emphasising the spirituality of the subject matter.
The Temptation of St. Anthony takes a weighty look at spirituality, psychiatry and possession. The performance is obscure and at times unsettling. It does not answer any questions on how to deal with the science of treating spiritual possession, but it does ask many questions. This makes it feel an important, significant, but very confusing performance.