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'I See You' shines spotlight on mental disorder

Pinto Ferreira's "I See You" tackles mental health. Picture: Supplied

Pinto Ferreira's "I See You" tackles mental health. Picture: Supplied

Published Jan 27, 2020


World renowned South African choreographer, dance teacher and artistic director Pinto Ferreira’s latest production "I See You" shines the spotlight on a mental condition, Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder. 

"I See You" follows the compelling story of Woman, a damsel in distress. Woman endured “unimaginable cruelty” as a child. 

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Her father molested her. He also abused her physically and psychologically. And now, in order to shield herself from her painful past, Woman embodies a number of diverse personalities.

The personalities include a middle aged cabaret star, a 4-year-old German girl and a rabbit.

As the story unfolds, audiences journey into Woman’s world as she meets Dr Bernstein, the psychiatrist who is treating her at a mental institution. He had been trying traditional methods of treatment for a while and nothing seems to work. 

Bernstein realised that the key to healing Woman would not necessarily be therapy, but love, which he then expresses towards her – something Woman has never experienced before. She was never loved as a child. And then the story takes a “very twisted turn”. 

Ferreira, who wrote and directed the play, says: “When a person suffers from dissociative identity disorder, it is very difficult to understand their own sense of identity. Within the play, the main character Woman, with the help of psychiatry, tries to make sense of her identity while attempting to escape her terrible past.

“Eventually Woman recognises herself as being a singular person. At that point, she says to herself ‘I see you…’ So she sees herself for who she really is, but it is also in a much broader sense of how we see each other. Do I see you for who you are?

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"Do I see myself who I am? So it’s very much a matter of introspection about who we are and how we see ourselves.”

He adds: Although the play is extremely confrontational and disturbing, there is a sense of hope in the storyline. It’s a journey that the two of them (Woman and Dr Bernstein) go through, which is terrifying, and quite exhilarating at the same time, but also very beautiful.”

 "I See You". Picture: Supplied

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Ferreira says his goal for this production is to spark necessary conversations about mental health in our society. “There are so many people in our modern-age that are living with varying degrees of mental disorders, be it anxiety, depression or bipolar… and these conditions are real and they can influence people’s lives really badly.

“This play is a call to recognise our fellow beings’ anguish in terms of trying to make sense of this world and encouraging support to make each other’s lives better,” says Ferreira.

The play is, at its heart, a love story, which makes for compelling viewing with burning themes such as mental illness, sexual abuse and identity.

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“The message of the play is clear: don’t turn a blind eye. Reach out to your fellow travellers that happen to be vulnerable in their journey. Love them. Encourage them. Support them,” adds Ferreira.

The production features Teri Scott as Woman and Johan Verwey as Dr Bernstein, alongside two flamboyant dancers, Jason Lee Fredericks and Matthew Winter. 

Seasoned performer Scott, expanding on her role, says: “This associative identity disorder – you have the core person or original person and due to trauma and extreme events in their lives as their saving grace, different personalities manifest so that the original person is able to take a back seat and is able to survive the traumatic events. In some cases, people develop up to 92 personalities as coping mechanisms to protect the core person.”

Woman and Dr Bernstein in "I See You". Picture: Supplied

Scott says playing Woman is a very challenging yet very beautiful experience.

“It’s very challenging because every single character or personality that comes to light is a full-fledged person not just a persona. And each of those people have very specific purposes as a protective mechanism for the core personality. It was quite challenging but exciting too to be part of this amazing project.”

"I See You" presents a unique and refreshing performance medium that borrows from diverse genres such as cabaret, the dramatic arts, dance and performance art.

“My goal with this production is to tell a vitally important story with the boundless compassion it necessitates”, says Ferreira.

I See You makes its debut at the Lesedi Theatre, Joburg Theatre, on Friday, February 7. Tickets are available at Webtickets from R120. 

For more information on the play visit  Joburg Theatre.

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