Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Bryony Kimmings discovers her partner, Tim, suffers with depression. As part of the treatment, we are welcomed to listen to their personal story, as the recount the swings and roundabouts that come from living with mental illness.
The Traverse Theatre has been home to some of the most risk-taking theatre on the circuit in the last decade, drawing in an affluent crowd of critics and artists alike. This award-winning show fits well within that category, as we are invited to join the conversation between Bryony Kimmings, and her long-term partner Tim Grayburn, the topic: his own depression.
The first thing that needs to be addressed is the couples’ courage to make this piece – the humility and endearment of both parties making it difficult to consider as simply a moment of theatre. Kimmings, a theatre practitioner and artist in her own right, suggested that Grayburn and she make a show about their progress through his battle with his illness. Grayburn then quit his job in advertising to pursue the notion with Kimmings, in order to tackle the issue head on, and simultaneously address the wider social issue of men with mental illnesses, often suppressed by the sufferers themselves.
The story has a simplicity that only comes from real life. Girl meets boy. Boy likes girl. They go through all the same commonplace milestones as the next couple. Seeing as Kimmings is very much pregnant, we can assume that the relationship is still going strong, and making a successful show together providing a dramatic irony to everything we are witnessing. The performative elements such as tongue-in-cheek dance pieces, daft songs, and exaggerated costuming, alongside the familiar plot points seduces you into forgetting that this is, in fact, a true story, concerning the very people in front of you. When we are reminded of this fact, it is with devastating effect, and the façade is unable to keep up with the reality of the content.
Kimmings and Grayburn bound around the stage and audience, leaving no space left unturned on the Traverse’s thrust stage. The authenticity of the couple makes for extremely endearing viewing, both parties partaking in playful movement and candid conversation that comes from true intimacy. Kimmings explains that Grayburn’s involvement in the show comes under the condition that he does not have to look the audience in the eye, which results in him wearing some beautifully inventive headwear and masks. Through transitions, we hear recordings of the couple at different stages of the recovery process, whilst symbolic objects and movement combined with cleverly placed lighting allow every moment to communicate much more than the face value.
As far as production values go, the technical elements of the performance do nothing new, combining direct addresses with alienating dramatised moments in order to have a hard, satirical look at a prominent issue. However, this is exactly what Kimmings and Grayburn have set out to achieve – nothing on stage is pretence, just an honest reaction and account of how this couple have dealt – are dealing still, with their lives together. There is no doubt that this is an important play – a term that doesn’t seem to match up to the gravity of this fearless achievement. Even if they don’t relate to the themes directly themselves, everyone has someone they know that needs to see this.