THE CONNECTION between current film controversy The Joker and world-famous Glasgow psychiatrist RD Laing may not be immediately obvious.

However, writer Ian Pattison points out the links are hard to ignore. “If Arthur Fleck (who becomes The Joker) had had a bit of co-presence (one-on-one treatment) with RD Laing he may have not gone on the rampage,” says the creator of comedy classic Rab C. Nesbitt.

“The film is set in Gotham City, the land of sci-fi, but the reality is we’re all in Gotham City now. There are not the resources needed to deal with mental health illness, nor the will to give this Cinderella area of health the attention it needs.”

The DC Comics spin-off film coincides with the staging of Pattison’s remarkably incisive and provocative play Divided, now running at Glasgow’s Oran Mor, which features a period in the life of Ronnie Laing, at one time the world’s most famous psychiatrist.

Glasgow-born Laing built a career on decrying traditional psychiatric techniques such as electro-convulsive therapy, lobotomy, and the use of chemical suppressants to treat schizophrenia. He believed in talking. Empathy. And understanding. “When he worked in Gartnavel Hospital he set up a special ward, and worked on instilling confidence in people,” says Pattison. “As a result, women were able to leave the unit, although after a year they returned because they’d gone back to the circumstances which caused them to be mentally ill in the first place. What can you do? Look at the family structure and see what can be changed from within.”

Ronnie Laing believed that schizophrenia was the result of wrestling with two identities: the identity defined for us by our families and our authentic identity. It was society itself which was sick, he claimed, and fractured family units played a major part in facilitating mental illness.

Yet, Laing would go on to father 10 children from two marriages and miscellaneous partners. He himself suffered from depression and grew up in a family with a depressed father and a mother who burnt his rocking horse when he was just five years old, telling him he no longer had a need for it. Or Santa Claus. However, Ian Pattison’s play, which stars Billy Mack, Sarah Miele and Eva Traynor, features a hugely ironic point in Laing’s life when he played havoc with his own family’s equilibrium.

When his 21 year-old daughter Susie was dying with monoblastic leukaemia Ronnie Laing decided to tell her how fatal her illness was. Where was his empathy? “He would defend himself with the argument that everybody deserved to know the facts of their condition and come to terms with their imminent demise.

“But his family couldn’t accept the way he delivered the information and then disappeared back to London to leave them to deal with the fall out.”

Laing, a handsome, charismatic individual was a man of many contradictions. He decried the use of drugs in patients but took experimental LSD with Sean Connery. He preached understanding and compassion. Yet, he was an alcoholic and prone to violent outbursts. “Just when you think there are things about him that can colour your opinion against him there are elements in the canon of his work that make you think again,” says Pattison. “He had wider vision and awareness than most people recognise. He wrote a book on Jean Paul Sartre, for example and Sartre himself straddles the divide between literature and psychology. RD Laing recognised a sense of self was crucial to our mental health.

“But there’s also no doubt he had a fractured personality. He burnt the candle at both ends. As a depressive he hated being on his own, being bored. Activity kept the demons at bay.”

Given our current focus on mental health, Pattison believes RD Laing’s legacy to be more profound. “It seems his time has come around again. This is a period of the carnage caused by austerity and cutbacks and mental health programmes not being funded adequately to cope with the carnage, with limited staff levels dealing with an endless queue of people requiring treatment.”

Pattison admits he’s long been drawn to write about flawed individuals. Indeed, Rab C. Nesbitt’s mental illness was implicit. “The only thing I knew of this man was he wore a head bandage because life was a permanent head wound. And in an early sketch he did go to see a psychiatrist - and was awarded a certificate confirming he was a qualified psychopath.” Pattison grins; “His wife was inordinately proud because he’d done something with his life.”

The writer’s voice softens. “But that was writing from 30 years ago. We couldn’t go there now. And today in fact Rab would struggle to get an appointment.”

Pattison was aided in his research for Divided by Karen Laing. “Karen is Ronnie Laing’s daughter and herself is a psychotherapist.”

So what of the relationship with Ronnie Laing and his first family? Did they reconcile after the death of Susie? Did they come to terms with the professional and personal contradictions in the behaviour of their father, who died aged 61 of a heart attack on a St Tropez tennis court?

Questions are posed and answers revealed.

Divided, Oran Mor, Glasgow, until Saturday.