This was a difficult show to watch. Probably the most difficult. It was sold as 'a love story about depression,' I didn’t think it through. Not even nearly. Not even half.
After seeing Bryony Kimmings Ltd in Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model, both in London and again in Melbourne, I was excited to see her and her partner, Tim Grayburn explore this issue. Her mixed form aesthetic which includes storytelling, metaphor, song, dance and research presents an autobiographical whole, a narrative that functions despite and perhaps because of its constructed pastiche. A veritas cabaret of 2015. This is partially enabled by removing the theatrical artifice; costume changes are conducted on the stage, dramatic choices are explained to the audience, and the research/information collected and presented is framed by her personal experience within the narrative - and in this instance his personal experience too. Although the show could use a little polish and performance precision, the result is a profound piece of theatre. A performed social awareness campaign. Storytelling with a message. Daggy poetry. Adhoc prose. Within this simple presentation is a complex gem that communicates itself brilliantly, defying the inner Brandis and defeating the idea that arts value lies purely in its decorative or entertainment potential.
They walk on stage and sing to the audience about mental health. They have baskets on their heads and maracas in hand. She tells us this is a love story… but hang on, whhhoaaah, wait it doesn’t make sense right because there are no happy endings when it comes to mental illness. A love story implies there is a happy ending? Or maybe that's a Rom Com. I'm getting mixed up. I thought a love story was a marriage of ideas, of a shared path, a happy ending… but Romeo and Juliet is a love story and Orpheus and Eurydice and Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca hmmmm. Despite these early warning signals Kimmings who is noticeably pregnant highlights in form that redemption and a 'happy ending' for their story at least, is a possibility. Ok. It starts off well ... a dance number, a pash, a cute little boat metaphor, finding pills in his backpack…
Half way through Fake it ‘til you Make It, Bryony and Tim are dancing together, a repetition of the happy romantic dance they performed earlier on. However, this time round Tim has a bag over his head (there is an ongoing motif that Tim wears a series of masks throughout the show) and as Bryony tries to dance with him, he stumbles. His gestures become stuck- he doesn't remember the moves. She peers at him smiling encouraging, searching to see if he's still there behind the mask, behind the glazed eyes and the broken steps. The tears start to stream down my face, and I am engulfed in my own sadness. I am crying for the man with the illness, the woman who is trying to reach out and love, and for myself. For the person who didn't know what to do. For feeling so helpless, so damned helpless and for his anxiety to manifest and eventually become my own.
I was with a man who was my best friend for 11 years. He was also really unwell for the second part of our relationship. He hid his illness, his clinical depression and anxiety from everyone for a long time - except for me. He oscillated between believing our relationship was at fault/that he must have fallen out of love with me/that this was the reason he no longer wanted to be intimate and thinking maybe there was something else going on. Confused by the sensations of numbness, feeling cold inside, guilt, knots in his stomach and mind, constant fatigue, inability to concentrate and suicidal thoughts he sought solace in music, drugs, booze and surfing. He would fake it until he made it, and his success would eventually dispel the demons. I was his friend, lover, supporter and biggest fan. I tried to get him to dance with me, but my encouraging smile only reminded him of his own pain.
For the next 10 minutes of the show I bury myself in myself and my darkness. I don't want to participate in what is happening on stage. I am shaking, my breath is ragged and I am wracked with grief that threatens to overwhelm entirely, and for a couple of moments- it does. I don't want to be reminded of the years of sadness and fear. I signed up for a love story not a horror. I catch glimpses of him in a mask of knotted snakes, of a goats skull, of death and the underworld, of hearing her talk through his thoughts of suicide, where he would do it… I cover my ears and my eyes. I don’t want to see. I don’t want to hear.
I can feel the play coming to the end, and I look up to see Tim without a mask, vulnerable and happy, his face lined with strains of something I recognise. The last moments of Fake It 'til You Make It play are about sharing the responsibility for his mental health, Bryony and Tim managing it together. Although I can get behind the idea that men with mental illness need to know that they are not alone and isolated, I’m still not sure if the love story is a misrepresentation of the fact. Perhaps it should be called a fear story, or a pain story or a human story. And then I remind myself that it is not my story, it is theirs. Besides, love stories are not just about happy endings, they are about overcoming obstacles too; little ones, mini ones, daily ones. And managing a ‘mental illness love story’ is just that. Millions of acts by the partners, family or friends, and the person themselves. My/our story become about more about the obstacles and less about the love. Could it have been different had there been more support, more public awareness, more love?! I really don’t know. What I do know, love story, happy ending or no - issues surrounding men and mental health are incredibly important and need to be publicly addressed. Despite the sadness of my experience of Fake It ‘til You Make It, I am glad Bryony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn made this show. I salute their bravado in presenting something like this, combating through personal action the systematic cultural silence surrounding male mental illness.
Please see www.bryonyandtim.com/www.bryonykimmings.com for more information about this show and their other work.
Photo curtesy of Southbank Centre/Theatreworks and Richard Davenport.
'The ugly pigeon is a joy forever' quoth the bearded manateed author days before his demise. A moment of enlightened profundity perhaps or pronounced incredulity that the idea of something so awful could improve ones pathway to providence. When does experiencing ugly become a joyful act? I am yet to determine the exact point upon the sliding scale. However if we delicately unwrap the word ugly it reveals a distortion of form, a bulging abstraction of what we like to consider normal. And normality makes us feel safe.
The interrogation of aesthetics, in relation to ones immediate environment, can lead to a provocation. A provocation to be still, to be silent, to listen with your whole body. To let the buildings, the trees and even the pigeons wash over you (when observing pigeons in flight, it is my belief is their torso is rather too large, leading to more of a fall than a flight and it must be noted that I too would rather not have a falling pigeon 'wash' over me). This is a provocation precisely because one does not stop to smell the roses if their absence is highlighted only by the decay in evidence. And the decay is often not that which was once deemed pleasing - that of the rose.
Therefore we must conclude that the Joyful Ugly Act can be achieved by letting go of the subjective aesthetic dialogue ( a near impossibility) OR it can be achieved through conducting ugly mediations with groups of aesthetically challenged people OR one must become ugly oneself (possibly achieved through a detailed meditation and observation of said pigeon). So I find myself moving between all three options, a) letting go on street corners (if you see me, I'm ok- just experiencing an ugly bath), b) facilitating such an act though meditation workshops (and unable to stop at the pigeons as it transpires all forms (leading to the provocation) can be subjected to an ugly gaze in principal) and c) perform what I consider to be Ugly, and then it is not, and then I am, but I'm not and then I am.
I have become hooked on unpicking the dirt from these thoughts, to find clarity in how we imagine the spaces we inhabit and why we attribute certain feelings towards certain buildings and people. I have once again flown the coop and deserted the actors pigeon path in the desire to understand- but it has been through the combined experience of being, teaching and listening that I am starting to put ugly in its place.
Next time you see a pigeon. Take a moment to draw the shape of its wing, its criss crossed feathers, its knees. Such a curious thing to behold another life form that breathes and moves and flies... well sort of.
I had 10 min to get ready for a costume fitting. Pristine underwear yes, deodorant yes, hairline ugh. The ginger coalition of dissidents were escaping over the cotton line and there was no way I had time to jump in the shower and remove the curly bastards I mean beauties. I scrabbled through my oversized bag of medicinal supplies and found a razor that still had its cap on.
Three days later, I was SO glad Glands and Seabum had collaborated to provide me with another batch of fiery vibrissa. As one tiny follicle pushed through my skin to meet the sun SHE defected, burying her head back down. NO. She cried out. No, please. Not the light. It's too bright, close the curtains. Please. Please. Please. She became red with embarrassment and rage for treating her so unfairly. She was hurting inside and then without me knowing, went and met the undies who met the crease who met the skin who met the sweat, who met the jeans. She sobbed all over all of them. Wetfaced and weary I ran myself a salt bath. I lay there for a bit, poked, squeezed, swore and eventually yielded. I couldn't see her for the life of me. I'd turned this way and that, inside out and back to front, tidal waves crashing over the sides onto the laminate floor.
AHHHHHH!!!!!! HEALED. She had been appeased. Google suggested Tea-Tree Oil, so the following morning I went in search of the chemmeister and anointed myself. Thanks be to.. nooooooooo. SHE'S still here. Keeping shelter under my thicket. Small, but not SO small, and swelling with each passing moment. 3 weeks had gone by since the the unfortunate dry quickie and when I finally agreed to look, I doubled over (more of an up and down double take then the more traditional side to side one) and gasped. It was much bigger than what it had been. A giant third labia. A mound, a mountain, and I was starting to feeling unwell. To the DOCTORS I say, to get an occidental opinion.
'You have an infection' she stated and pronounced me unwell. 'Here take this very strong dose of antibiotics and if that doesn't work we shall have to look into doing a procedure.'
Holy hell. How did I get here... I just didn't want my ginger pubes on display for the costume madam and audience to witness. Is that so wrong? As I sit here, feeling quite poorly, drugged up on something that kills both HER and everything else, because for shame, they might think that I'm unhygienic? That I don't take pride? That it's ugly? That I'm not like them? That, that, that- as soon as I articulate anything, it sounds ridiculous and I mean none of it and all of it at the same time? I am a woman, an actor with a beautiful fiery mane. Yes! An exquisite auburn coat. Yes! Lady Trail, Happy Garden, Landing Strip of Softness, Silky Forrest, Red Squirrel Tail, Kate Bush, Wonderful, wonderful yes, viva to my hairy locks!
Oh and next time-
don't dry shave.
Marina Abramovic. Artist. Performer. Provocateur.
512 Hours: A short account.
Gaga is a fan and practises her pedagogy, she walked from one end of the Wall of China to the middle and broke up with her boyfriend and after many years has perfected the sustained gaze. So what is Marina's deal?
The title refers to the length of time this performed artwork was open to the public at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, London. Participants were asked to leave their personal belongings in lockers before entering the gallery space. There were three rooms, with an activity occurring in each. Marina was there, supported by a group of guides who welcome the participants. Over the course of the month the activities shift slightly, but all of them facilitate a reflection, a meditation- while the deprivation of certain senses (via black cloths and headphones) aid concentration and focus.
I had been informed of the significance of her work by art historians and in relation to the theoretical discourse surrounding immersive theatre and the performed body. For me, the live experience of her work seemed to unpick the academy’s sticky categorisation and oxygenate an experience that can not be articulated with theory alone.
The First Room
I stand against the wall and quickly realise I am watching people with their eyes closed. Mostly women 25-40 years, though there is a healthy spattering of men. I wonder about those men, their sweat stained office shirts and leather pointed shoes moving nervously from side to side. Have they run across the park to experience this during their lunch break? Quite possibly. It is only when a guide takes my hand and leads me to the centre of the room and asks me to ‘close my eyes for as long as I can’ that I stop watching and start listening. I stand there for ten minutes, my mind tumbling around. I am surrounded by people. I can feel their breath. I could be at yoga practise or on a crowded underground at peak hour. So why here? Why do it in gallery? And why should I partake in this?
the moment when I open my eyes is
the moment when I disbelieve in the authenticity of my experience
The Second Room.
The second room involved walking up and down wearing a blindfold. Bumping into others was acceptable but not encouraged… it was about slowing down. Listening. I liked what happened when I did bump into people. The retraction… the adaptation, the theatre of surprise. The whole experience however was not a piece of theatre. It was not immersive within the current conception and constraint of the word (built on the premise that the audience members have autonomy and the ability to ‘choose’ their experience. After gaming, but also a product of affluent Y gen and their ability to move fluidly between socio - fiscal and cultural structures) nor immersive in that theatre dictates a direct engagement between artist and participant. Marina’s exercises facilitate an indirect engagement- in the same way that a painting provides a medium between artist and respondent.
Marina was there, but she didn’t need to be.
The artist was absent.
The Third Room
This room was full of beds, clean simple stretchers that were reminded me of a hospital. Large black headphones were worn by the public and turquoise sheets covered your torso and legs. One of my friends disliked the environment, for her it felt institutionalised. My experience was off the back of a performative walking tour in central London so I responded positively to the idea of ‘becoming well’ through art and reflection. The guides soft touch either allowed you to enter a place of calm, or reminded you, you were in the presence of others. It asserted its authority assisting you to wade through the shadows of a collective dream. Jung would have been proud. All these people, buzzing and breathing together. For me, I found it quite a solitary process.
The energy of the gallery had a cathedralesque solemnity. I believe this was the combined effect of ritualised meditation, the closing of ones eyes, the presence of Marina as guru and public notions of decorum and etiquette that are confined to gallery spaces. Moments of joy and irreverence were discovered in those (particularly older members) who walked through the rooms huffing and puffing that there was nothing to see. Other memorable people seemed to ‘encounter an exorcism or an interpretive breath dance.’ A performed introspection. It is difficult to say how much was performed and how much these people were experiencing. For me, 512 Hours was not about being watched but experiencing oneself in a way that is not familiar, redressing ones habitual patterns. To experience reflection and breath, despite being surrounded by others demands a determined focus and requires one to be embodied, to respond to all of your senses and let the exterior stimuli wash over you. For me this forgetting and remembering, only happened momentarily and I constantly had to remind myself of this (perhaps impossible) task.
A great teacher once told me that to embody something you must first acknowledge it, then learn it and then forget it.
An art in itself.
I watched, was asked to join in, became fed up, bored, forward thinking, present, reflective, where’s the door, I can do this, I am dying, keep going. Of course, it wasn’t until I gave up trying to do anything that I finally found some peace.
At the end. I then allowed myself to quietly depart. Two and a half hours is probably relatively quick to calm the London and coffee fuelled mind. Given the simplicity of the work, who knew it could generate such a load. I am very grateful for artists like Marina who generate platforms that conjure up new ways of mediating time, space and thought, and challenge the way I habitually encounter the world. If you didn’t happen to catch it… thank goodness for Abramopug.
Keeping it real.
Exercise is essential for actors. We require lung capacity, fantastic reflexes, supple necks (head rolls, quick turns, deep in thought downwards trajectories, upwards stargazing chin spasms- all crucial). However, please note Zumba in ones bedroom is not suitable for an acting showreel.
Mmmm... sun is out, yogurt and fruit, run in the park- wait you would like to cook me breakfast while I work on some lines? I won't say no.
For breakfast I eat cornish sea salt, locally made gluten-free rye, home made hollandaise - whisked to perfection, Brown eggs smoked in sustainable and foraged seasonal grasses. The coffee is single bean from a place where they speak Arabic and accompanied by Jus d'orange- a southern french import. I do hope they sort it out soon so I don't have to feel bad about the Jus travelling all that way. I was told oranges will be available during English winters soon... Looking forward.
LUNCH is Bloody hell already? I mean Bloody Mary Queen of Scots it's time for the next round. Roast loin of beef bred from the ruby red heifer care of the trucks from Devon, potatoes in goose fat because fat of geese tastes better, organic BLACK kale don't even start me on the budding baby flower kale and heritage carrots with the leaves on... clotted cream and the mess of an eton school grad, and goodness i forgot about the porkling entree and soup of creme that I devoured right after bloody Mary. The lunch washed down with Mainland ciders and stomach skin starting to stretch and stretch.
Dinner. We'll just have ALL of the starters, the hair of lapin, and breast of quail, strings of marsh heather and eyes of newt coupled all with reds from Barossa and Sardinia and Mendoza and Bordeaux, a chest that heaves under the weight of digestion, armpits wet with effort, the cotton but thank god it's not cotton only viscose and acrylic and two pounds so I can throw it away if it comes to that... fashion made for... Ohhhhhhhhh WOOOEEEE is me, I spied the CCTV, the arsehole in the corner. His piercing arrogance, his matter of fact visage, his pointed gaze. MY GOD, what happened to my legs, I look frankly enormous (frankfurts aside) and my arms wobble in a mesmerising slow motion fat cascade as I pretend to wave goodbye to my lover. I mean REALLY. No one wants to see that, it completely distracts you from the protagonists plight, their emotional journey reminding you oh shit- I forgot the chicken in the oven.....bbbbbbbbrrrk.
Did I mention the oyster martinis and the surprise jerk and the sushi prepared with delicate expediency. Supper calls. And don't get me wrong, I am NOT complaining. All this line learning, and audition stress is getting me down and I need to EAT. And who gives a toss if I am not the pretty skinny lead anymore but the pudgy best friend. Your casting changes. It shifts and it totally makes me more versatile?. I can be the pretty pudgy girl. The one who likes to have her cake and eat it too? Sooo. When your wardrobe shrinks to half of what it is... and your backflab bends and twists in rivulets when you try to look at your reflected bottom (yes women do that- YOU have to know before the cameraman does duh) then it makes you think- maybe dating a chef is perhaps not the best way forward in this caper... but it tastes so good. Is the industry and food compatible? Absolutely NOT.
Glass of champagne anyone?