Zach is an ex-soldier who’s withdrawn into a cardboard box in his kitchen. Ieuan is Zach’s friend who wants to offer assistance in the form of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, more commonly known as MDMA.
Together, they navigate themes of mental health, post-traumatic stress, patriotism, conflict, and supermarket shopping in Ridiculusmus’ play Give Me Your Love.
Jon Haynes and David Woods established Ridiculusmus in 1992, and today it’s an award-winning theatre company with the reputation for being both thoughtful and funny.
This “serious comedy” is described by the duo as “an organised chaos underpinned by decades of painstaking research” and has taken them from psychiatric hospitals in India to ground-breaking schizophrenia workshops in Lapland.
Their most recent work is a three-part exploration into innovative approaches to mental health treatment. The Ridiculusmus team wants to open dialogue between medical professionals, patients, and their families concerning mental health awareness and creative treatments.
”It’s our goal to destigmatise mental health and shine light on research that’s really effective”
“It’s our goal to destigmatise mental health and shine light on research that’s really effective,” said Mr Woods. “We want to see things of that nature in mainstream media, not just in the health pages but also in the arts and editorial pages.”
Mr Woods said it’s also useful to present novel mental health treatment ideas at medical conferences, but that it’s difficult to show therapy sessions without violating ethical standards. Ridiculusmus could bridge that gap with a few actors and a script, giving 500 conference delegates a scientifically accurate idea of how a treatment would work.
Give Me Your Love follows The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland, the latter of which investigated a psychosis treatment that (in parallel with the show’s title) has had very promising results in Western Lapland. Give Me Your Love delves into post-traumatic stress and the use of MDMA as treatment for the disorder. The two shows make up the first instalments of the series.
Mr Haynes and Mr Woods have a unique creative process. They have an idea, set up a camera, improvise, and then later transcribe the scene that plays out.
”The duo gravitated towards topics of mental health because of their own personal experiences dealing with mental illness”
The duo gravitated towards topics of mental health because of their own personal experiences dealing with mental illness.
“For Give Me Your Love, we thought, ‘what would happen if there was a door that someone was too terrified to open?’” Mr Haynes said. “So many of us have had times in our lives where we’ve wanted to stay in bed, hide, and not answer the door. It’s applicable to a wide audience, even to those without the hyper-vigilance and chronic anxiety that comes with PTSD.”
”It’s applicable to a wide audience, even to those without the hyper-vigilance and chronic anxiety that comes with PTSD”
Scientific accuracy is at the top of Ridiculusmus’ list when they write, and Give Me Your Love is no exception. Mr Woods and Mr Haynes worked with psychiatrist Dr Ben Sessa, who advised the play, and referenced the data of Dr Michael Mithoefer, medical monitor for clinical trials of MDMA for PTSD in the United States.
“We want to spread this information to all corners of life,” Mr Haynes said, “so accuracy is vital.”
In addition to consulting Dr Sessa and Dr Mithoefer, Ridiculusmus collaborated with Brad Burge from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychadelic Studies (MAPS), who assisted in arranging interviews for the company with US war veterans.
“We spoke with vets from Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Falklands,” Mr Haynes said. “What we gathered was simultaneously heart-breaking and eye-opening. We spoke with a veteran who was in Iraq. He came back with PTSD and eventually underwent psychotherapy combined with MDMA treatment. It worked, and he was freed from his PTSD after 15 years of failed treatment.”
”He was freed from his PTSD after 15 years of failed treatment”
Mr Haynes and Mr Woods further reiterated that MDMA as treatment needs to be destigmatised as soon as possible.
According to MAPS, the MDMA for PTSD pilot study had an 83% success rate when considering elimination of symptoms, which is significant because other therapies (psychotherapy alone, cognitive behavioural therapy, group therapy, antidepressants) have less success and have to be administered more often, or even forever.
MDMA in collaboration with psychotherapy would only need to be happen once to be effective, and would only be used three times maximum.
The idea is that MDMA opens up the patient emotionally and amplifies psychotherapy’s effectiveness: “It works primarily as a presynaptic releasing agent of serotonin,” said Mr Haynes. “It also affects areas of the brain such as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. Some people call it an ‘empathogen’ because it’s astonishing how much more patients will open up in therapy and confront the roots of their PTSD.”
Although Give Me Your Love focuses on PTSD in a military setting, Ridiculusmus notes that the show and the therapy are applicable to all causes of the disorder, whether its from a road accident, sexual assault, or a natural disaster. The first step is just to open the dialogue.
“There was one time, after a show, where an audience member approached us and said, ‘I’ve been depressed and I’ve never told anyone,’” said Mr Woods. “That is the kind of power an open dialogue holds.”