Permission to Spin – Jung and the battle for individuation. (Theatre Review)

Permission to Spin

The Old Fitz Theatre, 3 July – 28 July.

You can grab your tickets here.

Images: Robert Catto

In the Jungian Permission to Spin, Mary Rachael Brown places archetypes of an Ego, Personal unconsciousness and Collective unconsciousness, the three components of Jung’s psyche, in a room to have them battle for the object prize of The Self. Cristobel (Anna Houston) is in a battle for her psyche, the group-ness of social being preexisting individual existence. She has become a ‘self within a lived-in collective’ and because of that exists only in that collective. This is an essential component in the creation of a being who is aware of their own subjectivity. Becoming a self is a process taken at first without awareness and with limited embryonic choice. The moral and cognitive growth of an individual at some point takes a reflective turn and it becomes possible for the growing self to critically examine her life, her lived-in collective and collectives other than her own. At this point, there is an opportunity for consciousness to become deepened and more aware. However, more startling is a revelation that the self is engaged with events and histories of which she is not at all conscious, but which make their presence felt in her life.

Here we arrive at Cristobel’s crucial moment, her transition from the childishness of Miss Polkadot into what Martin (Yure Covich) describes as her “womanhood.” Much is made of Cristobel’s movement away from childish ways and toward her own personhood, as symbolized in the dress Martin has chosen for her. For Mary Rachael Brown, however, where the Ego and the collective unconscious are fundamentally patriarchal structures, this ego development for Cristobel can only be a violent one resulting in power exchange. As her small collective start to question her autonomy Cristobel calls forth and her stand for her agency, questions and interrogations arise about her membership in the collective. Some of those questions have to do with Cristobel’s own authenticity, integrity and autonomy. These moments of radical doubt and re-evaluation are the first conscious steps in the individuation process. Cristobel is not only leaving a toxic artistic arrangement that no longer serves her. She is a woman seeking to extricate herself from a dominating cultural institution that has controlled her. An un-individuated psyche is a psyche dependent on an object external to it and over which it has difficulty gaining control. As Luce Irigaray would say, where the feminine remains identified with the symbolic, there is no freedom.

Mary Rachael Brown further enhances her Jungian point with the connection to collectivism via her character Jim (Arky Michael). If Martin is an ego state, Jim is the collective unconscious, a Jungian archetype specifically rejected under liberal democratic societies as particularly anti-individual. Under the Miss Polkadot mantle, the collective unconsciouses suffer the same fate, whether in a prison across the world or in the Sydney office. It is self evident that one cannot become an individual without being a part of a collective or indeed, multiple collectives. This extends beyond the realm of the conscious and is captured beautifully in Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious. Inside the practice of individuation resides an ethics or practices, habits, attitudes and values that promote the good in terms of human development and flourishing. This is reflected back in the fully formed individual’s relationship with the communities that form their collectives. For Mary Rachael Brown this the ethics of individuation involve the development of political awareness which exceeds the narrow concerns of an individual subject or self. A woman asserting her autonomy inside this process not only has to resolve the conflict between autonomy and her collective, but the play Permission to Spin implies this process in itself is fraught for a woman. Patriarchy can stunt the development toward autonomy for females, and inside Permission To Spin, the indicators and signs of how this works are played out before us.

Permission to Spin is a complex work, devoted to its psychological premise, while playing out the machinations and consequences of the influences a sick modern collective has on the individual. Writer Mary Rachel Brown works with Dino Dimitriades to bring the three components of the psyche alive on the stage, arguing, interestingly enough, about children’s songs. Character and performance overrides the sensory, and Chris Baldwin’s simple set, Isabella Cannavo’s realistic and ‘now’ costuming and Veronique Benett’s focused lighting remain carefully in retreat to the power of the performances. And these are very strong performances, with Arky Michael, Anna Houston and Yure Covich calling forth the mightiest in them to lay the sublimated aspects of the psyche across their bodies. At times chilling and almost always terrifying, the power of what lies beneath in each of us splayed across the stage before our eyes evokes a sinister relationship with the Other that in me resides. Due to the talents displayed, Permission to Spin feels horribly personal inside a narrative that is anything but.

Redline Productions have had a stellar year in 2018, as have Apocalypse Theatre Company. The pairing works well to explore complicated theatre that takes alternate paths into contemporary issues. Permission To Spin is yet another strong contribution by these teams, in the intimacy of the Old Fitz Theatre space, contributing powerfully to the argument that Sydney theatre is among the best you will see.