What’s a good song to listen to when you’re depressed? Something to echo the distortions and contours of your rucked up spirits, or something that offers a sunny parallel world to escape into? When I’m down I can’t listen to Bright Eyes or Rufus Wainwright or any of those peddlers of sad intimate songs. I need musical theatre soundtracks or disco kitsch or anything that feels like somewhere else. Like Bjork’s ‘All Is Full of Love‘, which offers its humming warmth as the audience files out of Caroline Horton’s solo show All of Me, shellshocked but cautiously hopeful.
It’s a performance ‘about’ depression and death and Caroline Horton apologises profusely for that at the start of the show. When I think of being depressed I think of apologies like this; the ‘s’ word patterns through emails and texts and voicemails, an all-purpose greeting and sign-off, as potent and pointless as a sprinkle of holy water. If I apologise enough, it’ll make everything right.
Caroline Horton added this apologetic opening section to the show after a bout of depression which made her rethink All Of Me. Sometimes I think that depression is as incomprehensible when you’re happy as death is when you’re living; anyway, depressed, she broke her work apart, and added a framing section that acknowledges the missed deadlines that went into making it, the letting people down, the way that mental illness throws everything off track. But her apologies don’t feel apologetic, they feel defiant. She knows that we’ve seen this before, and she’s still going to do it anyway. And show us that we really, really haven’t.
I think sometimes I shy away from songs about depression and performances about depression because I don’t feel ready to sink myself into someone else’s misery; when you’re sad, empathy feels like an extra mountain to climb. I went to All of Me because I’ve loved the uncompromising originality of everything I’ve ever seen Caroline Horton do; her offbeat anorexia narrative Mess, her grandmother’s story in You’re Not Like The Other Girls Chrissy, the shit-smeared tax haven satire Islands. And despite every disclaimer she issues about it, it doesn’t feel depressing, because it feels so strange and new and unfamiliar, sitting outside those old-t-shirt-familiar narratives of acceptance and recovery.
The show’s bulky middle section is a myth – mostly one she’s made up, although it’s a bit like Orpheus’s journey to the Underworld. It’s a story of trudging down into the void, led by a terrifying, doomy-voiced ‘Sister’ who makes her leave the safety of her armpit-scented bedsheets. And it’s one that builds from bareness into a kind of sensory cacophony; Caroline Horton shifts from her depression-uniform of elasticated waists and jersey into a feather-decked figure from an ancient nightmare, surrounded by cascading sand and loop-peddle chants. It’s grimly beautiful and horror movie-scary, cut through with the odd joltingly truthful line; “Why are some people so aggressively okay, and why are they always in charge”, she yells out (or something very like it; I want to embroider the actual quote on some kind of t-shirt but getting a pen and paper out here feels all kinds of wrong).
All of Me is an act of bravery; not because she’s bearing her soul and her breasts, but because she’s confronting a void like some kind of ancient hero. But lucky Orpheus only had to go once. Depression means going again, and again, and again. Playing those songs on repeat, no point trying to change the track.
Conversations about mental health are so closely focused on normalisation and twee. ‘It’s time to talk’, the cheery office poster slogan goes, but I can’t shake the sense that few people are actually prepared for an hour-long depression monologue from a less-productive-than-optimal colleague, anymore than they’re ready for the eldritch scream of a feathered sister-myth-beast. The phrase everyone longs to hear a mentally ill person say is “it’s okay, I’m better now” and All of Me denies us that fix, and it also denies us all of Caroline Horton. What it gives is a blinding interlude of catharsis, yelled out from a void, the path back up to future joy highlighted in uneven glitter.
All of Me is on at Summerhall until 25th August. More info and tickets here.