As the world’s largest performance arts festival is underway, we are lucky to have theatre practitioner and critic Masha Tiunova in Edinburgh bringing her reflections on the best recovery shows at the festival.
I’d originally only planned half an hour for Antonia Rolls’s exhibition. Walk around, write a review, and then carry on with the rest of my day. In the end, I spent an hour and a half there….then returned the next day for another hour and to get an interview. ‘I am shining a light on addiction’, says Antonia. This is the feeling you get in the space she’s been co-creating with so many people who have faced addiction.
‘Addicts and Those Who Love Them’ chronicles people with lived experience of addiction, their stories handwritten on their portraits. This includes Antonia’s own son Costya, who died of an overdose in February. After seeing mostly one-person shows at the Fringe, this experience feels communal and performative. One feels compelled to share their own story with Antonia, joining the hundreds of voices and faces who have done so before. The exhibition, lit up by Antonia’s presence, encourages you to talk, to be seen and heard and held by the community.
Little details, such as flowers, Costya’s drugs bag, and a prayer bowl, in which you can put a stone in the water for someone you care for, create the atmosphere of home one can return to. Antonia wrote every portrait description by hand, too, to show that they matter. This kind of handwritten note you rarely find in settings outside of the home.
The people who look at you from the walls come from different walks of life and their relation to addiction is varied. Some are working in the field, others are in recovery, and many are struggling with someone else’s addiction. There is Antonia’s own story of being a loving mother to a child lost to addiction, but as she puts it ‘darkness has no power over him anymore’.
The stories challenge numerous narratives and politics – the war on drugs, language prioritized over care (do we, addicts, actually care if we are called ‘addicts’ or ‘people with addiction’?), and the social and psychological reasons behind drinking and using. From statements like ‘Heroin is a warm blanket. Keeps out the cold world’ to ‘Hobbies in the first year of my sobriety included but not limited to’, from the ‘hierarchy of drugs’ (and their users) in institutions, to the Chapman triangle, Antonia’s work is both personal and political. One can feel the pain and put it into the context of a society that is not trying to soothe it.
This communal catharsis refreshed my feelings of gratitude and the miracle of recovery on the threshold of my 14th sobriety anniversary, also reminding me there is still a lot of work to be done.
The exhibition is now over at the EdFringe, and Antonia is open to exhibit elsewhere. Please reach out to her with suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can follow Antonia on twitter @AntoniaRolls
“My Edinburgh Festival blog posts are not quite reviews but rather reflections. The reason for this is I look at the show from at least two perspectives: that of theatre, both as a practitioner and a reviewer, and that of recovery, both as a writer for Performing Recovery and a person in recovery. I hope it will provide fresh insights into the work. There are many acclaimed theatre critics out there who have already praised this work. Mine is a recovery angle that allows me to find the moments that might have been missed otherwise.”