Content Warning: the following article deals with topics covering mental health, depression and suicide.
Dir. Alex Mitchell, Tron Theatre, 25-27/10/18
What does it mean to be depressed? How does it impact a person’s life? Why are they depressed?
Despite the fact that the cabaret musical about depression, A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad), is humorous, it does not try to simplify depression to something explicable. In five chapters the play tells Sally’s journey with depression at different stages of her life. From a happy childhood, to trying to pretend that she does not feel a darkness within her. Then her struggle to understand why she is not enjoying things she used to love, her depression taking over her life, and finally Sally accepting help, actively seeking out joys and making a friend. Only to have depression attack her again, and so hard that she drives everyone away and attempts suicide.
The cast of three interacted with the audience throughout the play, creating a sense of intimacy and making it easy to relate to and understand Sally’s story. The stage was on the ground level, with the rows of chairs for the audience rising to one side. As the audience was filing in, the main actress Madeleine MacMahon was talking to the audience very quickly, seemingly without making usage of punctuation, her voice riding over well-known pop tunes. In fact, I made use of her audience interaction to ask whether I had time to go and fill up my water bottle, to which she loudly asked the entire audience if someone had some spare water for me.
Depression was conveyed simply yet with impact, whilst still bringing across the complexity of it. For example, the first time depression hit Sally was in a club, depicted by the two other actors creating a background of dancers with their backs to the audience. While excitedly taking a selfie with friends, how the depression hits Sally is shown by the actors suddenly moving in slow motion, while the main actress spoke quickly, describing what was happening. The separation of her body being in the present-tense of the plot while her voice was on the meta level, directly communicating to the audience effectively expressed how much the depression ripped Sally out of her life. Later in the play, at a time when the depression shaped most of Sally’s actions, she was wearing a black dog onesie, visually depicting the darkness that consumes her, and dehumanizing her, as she no longer was who the audience had known Sally to be. For instance, Sally loved music with an overpowering passion. In a time where nothing seemed to be going right the other actors casually threw about all the CDs that Sally owned, and when MacMahon was describing how Sally had started to actively make improvements in her life, she was simultaneously stacking the CDs into neat piles again.
Throughout the play, the actors were energetically, simply, yet very effectively depicting Sally’s struggle with depression. Deeply moved, I was crying during the standing ovation at the end. A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) tells a story of a young woman dealing with depression and uses it to raise awareness about this complex and terrifying mental illness.