It has been said of some shows on the Fringe in the past they were so good they should be prescribed by the NHS. Never has this been more true of any show than this one. Two years on after its Edinburgh debut, this extraordinarily uplifting play about depression still has people queuing for returns. Having missed it then due to Roundabout’s strict ‘no latecomers policy’, I finally managed to catch up, and I’m already looking forward to going back for more in the years to come.
The premise of the piece is exquisitely simple – on learning that his mother has just attempted suicide, a seven year old boy starts compiling a list of brilliant things to cheer her up. Things like ice cream, and staying up past your bedtime to watch TV. But as he grows, the list grows too, being revisited on and off at different points of his life. And ultimately the show grows from being about illness into being about life really. For, to paraphrase a line from the play – ‘if you have lived a full life without ever feeling depressed for a moment, you just haven’t been paying attention’.
It is the format of the piece however that makes all the difference to the telling of this simple story. Deciding that team effort is the best way to engage the audience, the show’s makers lay a delicate structure for ever-so-gentle, efficient and non-threatening audience participation. Donahoe casts his protagonists discretely as the audience take their seats, keeping everyone at ease. It starts off with cuing individuals to shout a word or a short phrase when their number is called, but, depending on what kind of a day we are having, it could end in a riotous off the cuff stand up comedy routine.
We had a good day yesterday! I’ve never seen an audience so relaxed about participation, so adept at extempore performance, and I am sure it is the case on most days with this show too. For this, most of the credit’s due to Donahoe’s easy and generous manner. It helps that he starts the story off as a likeable 7 year-old but for most of the rest of the time, his expression is one of a kind, record-loving, tweed-wearing, impossible-not-to-like geography teacher. In a word: brilliant, truly.