Edinburgh Fringe 2019
An unflinching voyage through depression and recovery, Caroline Horton’s show is an absolute triumph
You’re not meant to start a show by apologising, Caroline Horton, tells us. But apologise she does. Starting her show with copious amounts of sorries for everything and anything, Horton tells us this is not the show it was meant to be; she had started writing one show but when an episode of her recurrent depression intervened it became something else.
Even as it interjects humour into the darkness, highlighting the absurdity of the human condition, All of Me, doesn’t veer away from the void, away from despair and from the attraction of death as a way out of it. It avoids the trite territory of “It’s good to talk” and enters an altogether darker place where recovery is an incremental journey on a slippery pole. The power of the show lies in Horton’s skill in guiding us right into and through that void to the other side.
Dressed in dark day sweats, Horton takes us through her likes and dislikes, a voyage through everyday life that is increasingly punctuated by a critical inner voice distorted through a microphone and derailed by depression. Donning a tall feathered headdress and pulling on a long apron-like black skirt; she becomes a high priestess taking us by the hand and leading us into the underworld, a modern day Persephone. We enter mythical and dream-like territory where Horton is subsumed by the darkness and there seems no way out, occupying a space where life has ground to a halt and she has surrendered to the inevitable. There is a seductive allure and splendour in it all. Occasionally voices from the other side that seem a long way off interject to persuade her to have a cup of tea or to take a bath. Re-entry to the world is a swift decompression to a place where the quotidian feels shabby and lacklustre in comparison.
Deceptively unconstructed, there are two sets of scaffolding on stage that serve as the ramshackle holding together of a life. Sacks hang above the stage reminiscent of carcasses in Dutch still lives depicted as objects of beauty but actually a reminder of the mortality that lurks in life. Dim lighting occasionally flits over to catch glitter balls that glint and hint at another world beyond the deep, dark well of depression. A cacophonous soundscape created by Horton in collaboration with composer James Atherton and sound designer Elena Peña, gives an aural dimension to Horton’s experience. The creation of the space where the profundities of the experiences in All of Me can be played out is another of the show’s triumphs.
All of Me ends with a party where ugliness and beauty, shame and judgement, joy and sadness, desire and true love congregate, the varied facets of life that confront us all everyday. Navigating between the spaces and facing each as it comes is perhaps the best we can do. There will be darkness, Horton unflinchingly tells us, and while depression will come again, somewhere out there there is light.
In spite of Horton’s protestations, this is a beautifully constructed show, its apparent messiness a testament to pinpoint sharp writing from Horton herself, sensitive direction from Alex Swift and back up from a technical team that provides a backdrop to All of Me that is completely congruous and supportive of its themes.
So many of Horton’s apologies at the start of the show are not borne out, but do serve to make us watch with a different eye, to be conscious of its construction and to be there with her through the darkness. But in the end no apologies are needed – this is a truly magnificent show.