“This is not a fairy tale.”
This is the story of the human experience of depression, told through song, dance, glitter and sequins. A disco ball hangs from the ceiling. Silver streamers hang from the back entrance to the stage. The performers are dressed all in black, but with feathers, sequins and sparkles, looking gloriously like the pages of a Christmas party fashion spread in a magazine. The epitome of happiness, twinkling in the darkness.
And as the music starts, Brigitte Aphrodite’s talents as a comedy singer/songwriter shine through. This is as much a rock gig as it is a piece of theatre with support from vocalists and musicians, Lucy Thackeray, Russell Ditchfield, Matthew Blake and Musical Director Quiet Boy.
The songs are catchy, funny, nuanced and thoughtful. The characters are well defined, the choreography is charming, and each number is a neat piece of storytelling deserving of its own applause. But what carries the piece forward is the dark undertones in moments of pause, and the harsh reality of depression that Brigitte falls into once the music has died away.
Just as Brigitte’s story ebbs between the show and reality, so too does the piece flow between hilarity and despair. It is easy to laugh with Brigitte when she hops around the stage in a glittery leotard, sings with faux sincerity and tells us anecdotes about the platform guard at Bromley Station (a.k.a The Sunshine Lady). The toe-tapping number ‘We’re Gonna Pop This Party’ which narrates the gang’s antics on their crazy night out is a particular highpoint. It is less easy to laugh, however, when we see a girl crawl under her bed and remain there for three weeks. It is in this way that the piece strikes the balance between an honest portrayal of depression and its bright, jovial antithesis brilliantly, and it is never long before the audience are laughing again.
That is until the house lights come on and Brigitte removes her microphone. The set is cleared, and she takes a piece of paper from her black bum bag. She reads from a letter addressed to her parents and describes her experience of the illness. This hiatus is crucial. The stigma around depression that threatens to disregard it as a ‘real’ illness, to attribute it to laziness, a passing phase or worse, a bout of sadness, deserves to be tackled. Otherwise, we are inhibited from talking about it and from it being taken seriously with regards to diagnosis and treatment, and allowing the consequences of people suffering in silence.
This is not just a fun piece of theatre. It is a way of communicating what depression can look like, and finding a vessel for expression. In Brigitte’s letter, she talks about the self-loathing that accompanies depression. What a backlash, then, to don a sparkly leotard, get a bunch of friends together and sing some songs about it? The show finishes on a high with a celebration of this bedfellow, naming her black dog Creshendorious. Brigitte has been a delightful character to follow throughout the show, and for this final number, it is a real pleasure to see her accept that she is something to be celebrated, black dog and all.
And like all good rock gigs, there is an encore. The final song has the audience clapping along, declaring that the same celebration goes for the rest of us.
“Our hearts are hawks
Whopping great hawks”
We are all beautiful, in all our complexities, and this show is a heartwarming reminder of that.