Alison Peebles on how theatre show Dirty Paradise was inspired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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Alison Peebles on how theatre show Dirty Paradise was inspired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Alison Peebles tells Mark Fisher how a Gabriel Garcia Marquez story opened up a world of auditory hallucinations

When we read about people who hear voices inside their heads, it is usually in grim news reports involving severe psychiatric illness. Like many medical complaints, however, ‘auditory hallucinations’ exist across a whole spectrum of intensity. This was a revelation to director Alison Peebles and writer/performer Leann O’Kasi when they came to prepare for Dirty Paradise, a play about a woman trying to escape her voices.

‘You’d think that people who hear voices are all schizophrenic, but they’re not,’ says Peebles. ‘Some people just hear these voices – they sound as if they’re in the room or in the street with you, speaking to you, shouting at you or arguing with each other. There can be a whole conversation going on. It’s just extraordinary to think that people have got that going on in their head.’

O’Kasi’s play is inspired by – although not strictly adapted from – ‘I Only Came to Use the Phone’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In that short story, a woman hitches a lift on a bus that is going to a mental hospital and inadvertently ends up as a patient. This version, created in consultation with the Hearing Voices Network, shares the idea of taking a bus and finding yourself in a very different world, but quickly departs from the original after that.

‘It’s much more about the character, who has other issues – she was a foster child and she’s hearing these voices,’ says Peebles. ‘She’s decided at the age of 21 to get away from the UK, partly because of the voices, and she picks at random to go to Brazil which, of course, is an incredibly noisy place.’
The challenge for the director in this Tron production, performed in the Changing House studio as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, is to convey externally what is going on internally. ‘Do you, as the audience, hear what she hears inside her head?’ she wonders aloud. ‘And how does that work when you hear other voices that are not inside her head? Leann has done such a fantastic job on the script, which is not a linear narrative – she deliberately wants to jump about in time – and that adds to the sense of chaos that’s going on in her head and outside.’

Peebles has known O’Kasi since she mentored her when the younger woman was a trainee director at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre in 2008-09. Now O’Kasi is artist in residence at the Tron, the two women have swapped roles: Peebles, who is well known as an actor, is directing, while O’Kasi, whose acclaimed productions include Topdog/Underdog at the Citz and Betrayed at the Tron, is stepping into the spotlight on stage.

‘We have a very good working relationship,’ says Peebles, who is going straight from this production into rehearsals for Panic Patterns by novelists Louise Welsh and Zoë Strachan as part of Glasgay! ‘I think Leann is the same as me in that, as an actor, I want to be directed, challenged and provoked and, as a director, I’m not thinking I would like to be in that part, I’m working with a very different aspect of my imagination.’

Dirty Paradise, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Fri 1–Sat 9 Oct.

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