By Zekria Ibrahimi
Key Themes: schizophrenia, play, class, Soho
This is a play about Soho, about its mixture of delight and danger.
It revolves around a woman working for a London fashion firm. She enters a state of depression. She becomes attracted to alcohol, she grows unstable, she is unable to easily adapt to her job and the city. Her own background is the conservative countryside.
There is nothing nice and cushy about her harassed mental condition.
Enter the realm of uncertainty! Money and sex become unpredictable entrapments. She feels as if she is in a pit from which she cannot escape.
Depression… it destroys all that is secure and serene.
Depression…it is the misery of loneliness and self- destruction.
Depression…this is the fate of Jane Tomkin- Tomkin…
About the Author
Zekria Ibrahimi (born in 1959) is defined by his schizophrenia. It first hit him long ago, in his late teens. He is fifty years old now, grey and frail, almost a pensioner, with all the aches and injuries of age, and he does not always want to remember how, as an adolescent in the late 1970’s, he suddenly became afraid of everything surrounding him, and, worst of all, of himself. He would run around the countryside and knock at the doors of strangers because he feared the apocalypse was pursuing him … He would pick up rubbish outside in alleys and streets and hoard it in his not very palatial lodgings … He was always wandering away from home, searching for … what would never be found again … the straight route, the level way … He was a tramp, freezing during the nights in public toilets where he had various unsavoury insects as company on the cold concrete …
There were years of pain when his schizophrenia became almost his only companion- albeit a sadistic one, punishing him even as he hugged it. Perhaps, to echo both R. D. Laing and Emily Dickinson, it is the entire globe, it is general society, that is truly insane. Schizophrenics simply burrow all too deeply under the surface. They reach the very core of the savage reality in us all. Most varnish over the anarchic truth within through the superficial sham paraded as ‘civilization’. Schizophrenics prefer to be uncomfortably honest barbarians. For the accident- prone Zekria, the SYSTEM is all callousness, and no cure.
Eventually, after much psychotic shouting on Hammersmith Broadway, the hapless Zekria was confined at the Charing Cross unit in the West London Mental Health Trust. Following the unsafe unstable freedom of his schizophrenia, came the restrictions of Section 3. He would not have survived without the multi- racial compassion of the individual doctors and nurses in Charing Cross. Yet the overall SYSTEM remains an ogre of rules and restraints, and the INSTITUTION of psychiatry can be as cold and vicious as in the days of lobotomy and insulin shock.
Now he is elderly, but still he muses about being locked up, drugged up, about how, with schizophrenia, the treatment can be worse than the disease…
Humiliating the subordinate scum- the servants, the miners, the dustbin men, all those grimy non- entities- it is what we, the upper crust, have always existed for.(She yawns, not very sweetly) In the end, I guess that it is not a very comfortable patrician responsibility of ours, to have to be always repulsive towards the working class. (She shrugs, suddenly not quite at ease about her aggressively aristocratic past. She struts to the front of the stage, and squints at the on- lookers below. There is something very tentative and unsure about her, for all the show of being in control that she puts on) All our schoolgirl wheezes and japes, they are the past, now that I seem such a Soho sophisticate… Yet my past will never let me go. It squirms all over me, like venom from a Leviathan that rises up and swallows me down. It lunges at me, it makes me remember all its fangs and horrors, and it incessantly tends to contain a surprise, a shock, a concealed horror. The past is always far less certain than the future. And the past is a perpetual octopus, so that if you seem to escape from one of its tentacles, you are simply snatched by another. And my particular terror is…(she sighs lugubriously) that the past is the only company I possess.
I telephoned you yesterday night. I was so on my own- a beastly solitude, like being caged and chained, in my Soho apartment. I’m desperate to show you all that is me. We still haven’t explored each other’s hearts! Please, let me tell you the reasons I’m so unhappy. If you don’t listen to me, why, darrrling, I shall want to scream out my beastly life- story at every passer by in any alleyway down Soho. I’m going mad with loneliness. That’s what insanity is- being all alone. Thanks for coming for a chat. Thanks. There’s no cure but you for the ache of my solitude … How romantic, and tragic, everything is! … I’m sinking, damn me, sinking …
O, let me repeat to you again: thanks, for listening … It’s just so difficult to talk concerning issues … to address the problem of what I am … to spout off about myself, about my work. I’m a ‘PR consultant’ for an Italian fashion firm, in Soho. The House of Giovanni is so dreadfully swish, so killingly posh. They need … a so- called English rose such as me, my very self, with my façade of English sham sophistication, for their clients- the damned global bourgeoisie. Upon my accent, is stamped a price- forty five thousand a year. I drawl on and on, with my dull nasal consonants and my dreary broad vowels, and people assume at once that I am some sort of Anglo- Saxon Delphic Oracle. I become a seemingly pristine pseudo- goddess among the gullible rich. The Americans, the Continentals- they lap up my voice as if it’s clotted cream. They eat up my haughty Sloane tones, they lick away at my RP sounds, they digest with a laughable reverence my stuck up English disguise.
(She walks upstage to the audience. She is trying- not very well- to be intimate with her invisible date)
You must reckon that I’m a really unapproachable snob. Let me reveal how tender I can be. Please…
The problem, damn me, is the fashion world, darrrling (She self- consciously and self- mockingly trills the r’s) … It’s as elitist as Hell … It’s competitive, it’s narcissistic and it doesn’t encourage anything that might be described as calm gentle contemplation … Everything is hectic and self- obsessed. Mirrors and cameras, designs and make- up, the vanity, the rush…
My boss is Giovanni. Giovanni Impazzata. He’s Italian, and he would very casually confirm that mere trivial irrelevant things such as politics, the economy and religion are so much less important than the latest fashion show in Paris, New York or Milan.
I was having this bout of gas with some hot- headed furnace- lipped Italian model … Isabella … She was going on and on about how us, the apparently beautiful and sophisticated ones, need to look down on them, the crude and coarse masses unable to understand our grace and our culture …
(There now waltzes onstage the selfsame Italian model, very Tuscan and arrogant, and wearing one of the alas ultra- modern minimalist dresses produced by the House of Giovanni. The ‘garment’ is brash fluorescent yellow, and stops directly underneath her breasts. Isabella has all the shallowness of someone who has been steeped to excess in the ‘fashion world’. It is all too much looking glass, and too little reality)