The Inconvenience of Wings
Assembly George Square Theatre
Until 27th August (3:10pm)
The Inconvenience of Wings tells the story of married couple Paul (Andrew Buckland) and Sara (Jennifer Steyn) and their friend, psychiatry professor James (Mncedisi Shabangu) as they go backwards through time tracing the struggles they have had with Sara’s mental health.
For me the characters weren’t rounded enough to be engaging and the backwards structure didn’t serve the story meaning there was nothing to keep the audience hooked to the end. More than that, there was an alarming propensity for the only female character to be disregarded, and her mental health prioritised below that of her husband. In a particularly emotional section Paul advices he doesn’t want to send Sara for residential treatment in a clinic because he will miss her. This is played like a big revelation with many tears. For me, the idea that Sara might also be an engaging and valuable person to be around as well as suffering with poor mental health just wasn’t a revelation. This dynamic continues to be built upon during the course of the play. The character of Paul is lauded for his resilience in putting up with her. I absolutely acknowledge the immense difficulties that can come with supporting someone with poor health, whether mental or physical, but in this play there was only mention of his experience as supporting role, without due consideration for the way she must be feeling, and the impact of living with bipolar disorder. I have to wonder whether if it was a female in the supporting role, this praise would be given.
Even Sara’s eventual suicide is not considered the crux of the play, rather Paul’s own mental health deterioration is portrayed as the real tragedy. Additionally there is inconsistency, with the psychiatrist saying in one breath there is no real hope, and the next that these cases are often cured. At no point is Sara consulted on her own desires and thoughts about treatment. It’s an uncomfortable watch, and not in the manner they had intended.
When Sara is given the opportunity to talk about other women she relies on tired stereotyping – there is discussion of baking all night to avoid sex. That was the punchline. Once again it feels like a really surface rendering of female lived experience. There are worrying overtones of an obligation to provide sex, and no consideration that any evasive behaviour is concerning and should be addressed. Within the play this is intended as a throwaway comic comment.
Similarly troubling, when Sara’s sexual advances are rejected by the psychiatrist, she instantly assumes it must be because her breasts are small. Furthermore, when considering the potential barriers and reasons for her rejected advances, she mentions Paul, but James’s wife isn’t considered. Consistently women are presented as irrelevant and shallow.
The show contains consistent nudity which for me, just wasn’t justified. The characters have a conversation in the bath, which could just as easily be had elsewhere. It felt more like an attempt to inject interest into a flailing play. Redressing on stage was frantic and drew focus from the monologue we were meant to be focussing on.
The credentials of the cast, and acclaimed director and writer (Lara Foot) combined with this emotive topic could have delivered so much more. The cast paced through admirably, but ultimately it was a portrayal of a female caricature, with two ‘reasonable’ men discussing what to do with her. Not one for me.
The Inconvenience of Wings is on at the Assembly Theatre George Square until 27th August at 3:10pm. Further details and tickets can be found here.