Hats off to Silent Uproar, for lifting the lid on this difficult subject, with their surprising and gripping musical cabaret presentation – you don’t normally expect glitter and ostrich feather fans in a play about depression!
The cast begin with their hats – sparkly golden hats – fixed firmly on their heads and big, big smiles fixed firmly on their faces as they sing and high-kick their way through their sugar-coated “Happylujah” opening number, determined to put on a great show-biz performance in their sparkling sequined waistcoats and tails against a glitzy Broadway backdrop. This is going to be a Happy Show. “You don’t get rain with this rainbow!”
The show tells the story of Sally, who starts off as a happy, bright 16 year old girl with boundless confidence, enormous enthusiasms and big ambitions. But somehow, just as everything seems to be going her way, something inside her goes wrong.There seems to be no reason. Soon she no longer thinks of herself as the kid who is going to change the world, but as “the girl who f***s things up”. Her long journey through various stages of depression has begun.
Jon Brittain’s script is superb. Sally’s story is told with humour and honesty punctuated with hilarious and moving musical numbers with punchy intelligent lyrics, performed with panache by Sally (Madeleine MacMahon) and the cast of characters portrayed by Sophie Clay and Ed Yelland.
Brittain has Sally bring to life Winston Churchill’s personification of depression as a “black dog”, when she dons an animal costume for her work as a “chugger” for a stray dogs charity; this is very effective. When Sally’s little-girl bunches disappear and her face is framed instead by the hound’s dark hood, it emphasises the bleakness of the change in her outlook.
Sally is lucky. She has a loyal “spaniel” of a friend, Toby, who sticks by her through thick and thin and isn’t afraid to say what he thinks. She comes across a stranger, Tash, who just happens to be there and say the right thing at the right time. In their very different ways, they help Sally to get past the worst times and arrive at a better place. However, the show offers no false comfort. It might start off as a “feel-good” musical, but it definitely ends on a “feel-OK” note: “Sometimes ‘not bad’ is pretty damned good.”
Depression is often referred to as “the silent killer” or “the silent epidemic”. The take-home message of the production is that depression may never go away altogether but there are things we can all do to make things better. The audience were offered packs of suggestions to take away. One of the most important is to talk– it is better to sing and dance about it than to keep it silent. As we walked home my companion and I talked about it, for the first time, although we’ve known each other for decades.