Bush Theatre, London – until 14 March 2020
Essie’s fine. Her job search is going well, she has savings in the bank, her friends and family are nearby. But she doesn’t know how to describe herself in interviews, spends way too much time online, and recently split up with her girlfriend. Her big and exciting world is shrinking, and her body feels more and more like it’s not her won.
So she starts with a concrete, simple step that she hopes will help her reclaim a sense of self – she reaches out to everyone she knows, and asks them to describe her in one word. These words are recorded on a list that she believes might be what saves her. There are several amusingly awkward situations that are generated by her approach, which nicely balance the gravity of the play’s message.
Of course, a list of adjectives isn’t going to solve underlying mental health issues that she stubbornly refuses to recognise, but Margaret Perry’s monologue that charts a character’s increasingly-desperate attempts to pull herself up by the bootstraps is still hugely recognisable. Despite recent campaigns to de-stigmatise depression and low mood, it can be incredibly difficult to accept the need for help – especially if others tell us how perfect our lives are. Essie is a comforting reassurance that it’s ok to seek professional support.
Breffni Holahan delivers Perry’s script with an unrelenting energy that starts high and reaches stratospheric levels. She is confined to a hovering, grey platform that looks like a slab of concrete violently ripped from the earth. When this design by Alison Neighbour is paired with Alex Fernandes’ lighting, her isolation and helplessness is painfully amplified as she floats in a dark void. She is well and truly trapped, with nothing to comfort or ground her.
Though an ambiguous ending can frustrate those who prefer their narratives tidily resolved, it’s surprising and reflective of the messiness of managing life with depression or any other mental health issues. It also reminds us that we’re not alone, and reaching out when we need support is a crucial first step.