Laura Albert: In Therapy With Susie Orbach
Baillie Gifford Tent, 21st August 2017
Paraded as an “experiment” by Susie Orbach – she of Fat Is A Feminist Issue – this extraordinary show was indeed much more performance than simple interview. It’s probably fair to say that most of the audience were primarily there to see Orbach, but her day job is as a psychoanalyst, and this interview with Laura Albert took the form of a therapy session with the American writer.
Orbach started well – with the words "Tell me", then silence. Taking that cue, Albert talked on her own terms, and I took to her straight away. Not knowing a lot about her, it became clear that the key features in her life were abuse (primarily) and the use of food and writing as counterweights. She looks nothing like her years – nor does Orbach, by the way – which suggests that each of these women gains vitality from their work. Briefly, Albert was allowed to touch on how abuse has affected her and her work, and on a period when she was (as she put it) 'outed' as her pseudonym JT LeRoy. Albert, it transpired, had got herself into difficulties by signing a contract under her pseudonym and had subsequently successfully been sued for fraud.
Having been encouraged to open up by Orbach, Albert then found her 'therapy session' being channeled by Orbach into the therapist's favourite topic, food, fat and body shape. Now Orbach began to direct the show, and there was far less opportunity to find out about Albert – whose story was, frankly, far more interesting for this observer.
Then the "performance" ended and there followed a debrief and then questions from the audience which were once again dominated by Orbach rather than Albert. Orbach felt that she'd been "unable to draw a thread" from Albert's talk – as if that were the therapist's job. For her part, Albert, clearly a vulnerable woman, made it clear that she felt taken advantage of by Orbach. And although Orbach said she was sorry that Albert felt 'disappointed', she failed to apologise that Albert was in tears at the end of the show. I found Orbach's lack of professional concern unacceptable, and actually quite shocking. Audience members near me seemed to share that view.
I'd like to have bought one of Laura Albert's books afterwards in the signing tent, but the pair of them were sitting together – how that could be I couldn't fathom – and at that point I couldn't bring myself to be near Susie Orbach.
What on earth was Orbach playing at?