ShopFront Theatre, Theatre Absolute, Coventry, Thursday 10th June 2021
Mademoiselle F was the first person to be diagnosed with what is recognised today as OCD. We join her in her room in a Parisian asylum in the 19th century, as she battles with and succumbs to her compulsions in a never-ending internal struggle. In the title role, Miriam Edwards imbues the part with nervous energy and fragility. She is accompanied by Tyrone Huggins in the role of Polar Bear, who acts as a visitor and a nurse, but mostly as a polar bear. He regales F with stories of his life in a present-day zoo. The stories fascinate F (and us) and his descriptions of the modern world have a strong ecological message.
Writer Vanessa Oakes draws parallels between F in her room and the bear in his enclosure, between the mental illnesses suffered by animals in captivity and the prevalence of smartphones in society and our compulsion to continually check them. There is more to the play than a case study of an all-but forgotten Frenchwoman.
Miriam Edwards finds light and shade in the neuroses of F, and I could listen to Tyrone Huggins all day as he explains everything with warm authority. Director Mark Evans keeps things tight in the empty but intimate setting, further limiting the space with a length of rope, symbolising the polar bears’ dwindling natural habitat.
It’s engaging, provocative stuff but it’s a case of the contemporary social commentary, with its direct relevance to the way we live, overshadowing the thin biography of the eponymous, practically anonymous, mademoiselle.
Bear with: Miriam Edwards and Tyrone Huggins