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When the opportunity arose to see a musical about depression, I knew I had found my calling. As an avid defender of both musical theatre and the stigma surrounding mental illness, I was intrigued to know how the unbridled joy of musicals and the often gloomy world of mental health could be combined into a 1-hour show without sacrificing anything. The answer? Surprisingly well!
A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) revolves around the life of Sally, a 30-ish-year-old girl, recounting the ups and downs of her life thus far, neatly sectioned into chapters – my personal favourite being ‘Chapter 2: When everything went to shit’. Starting with Sally’s 16-year-old self, the audience was taken though six chapters of dealing with denial, depression, failure, relapse and trying to recover, whatever recovery really means. The ensemble was made up of the main performer, two other actors and a keyboard player – an understated but incredibly well-balanced set of performers. While Sally, the main character, stuck to her character, the other two performers seamlessly switched from role to role, complete with slight costume and accent changes. The acting was flawless – a mixture of interaction, monologues and the slightest hint of audience participation created an environment wherein it felt as if you were having a long overdue conversation with a friend, or a deep conversation in the smoking area of a club, where things feel infinite and simultaneously bittersweet.
The play deals with quite intense themes, as is to be expected with a musical of this sort, but does so in a clever, tasteful way without any unease. A moment I found particularly emotive was the attempted suicide scene: a scene that could have easily been offensive, triggering or tokenistic was transformed into a moment of euphoria, relief and triumph, as Sally realises that she cannot kill herself to a song by Meatloaf. Her love of music remains a central theme of the play and proves a useful analogy that was sometimes staying alive is worth it for the smallest things – whether it be music, the sky or dogs. The musical portrayed mental illness in its true form – the highs and the lows, the mundanity of it, and the fact that it is more of a burden than something to be romanticised – a factor that so many media portrayals of mental illness fail to do. The singing was the perfect amount; nothing too cringy, nor too infrequent, and essentially, it didn’t feel forced or insincere.
The very existence of such a production opens up a conversation about the importance of accepting your feelings – and more importantly, that even with acceptance, talking doesn’t come easily. It has been performed around the country, receiving rave reviews as it travels, so for the production to come to Lancaster was a happy surprise. It was cathartic, understated and essential viewing – whether you like musicals, care about mental health or none of the above, I’d still recommend it very highly. I laughed, I cried, and I came out the other side feeling surprisingly reassured – the sign of an exquisite piece of theatre.
Love a good musical? Fancy a bit of theatre? Head to the Dukes’ website at dukes-lancaster.org for their upcoming shows.