FringeReview UK 2015
Bryony Kimmings is an outrageous, hilarious and fearless Performance Artist from London. Tim Grayburn is an outrageous, hilarious and fearless account manager at a top advertising firm. These two humans happen to be a couple. Bryony spends most of her life on tour trying her best to change the world. Tim spends most of his life at a desk trying his best to sell the world. Six months into their relationship Bryony found out that Tim has severe clinical depression. He had kept it a secret for a very long time.
Bryony Kimmings makes a habit of performing onstage with people who don’t usually tread the boards. Her last show, Credible, Likeable, Superstar, Rolemodel, involved her remarkable ten-year-old niece touring around with her and doing an incredible month long run in Edinburgh, as they discussed the issue of sexualisation of young girls. Fake it ‘til you make it goes a step further still, as the indomitable Kimmings brings her large pregnant belly and her fiancée onstage for this remarkable production.
It is also fair to say that this show follows Kimmings’ usual habit of tackling taboos and social issues head on, examining issues of chronic depression and the pressures on men to be ‘strong’ in a macho and emotionally retarded society. However, what makes this show so extraordinary is that her fiancée works in advertising, and has been pulled from behind his desk to make this show, and he is the man suffering from the chronic depression in question.
This results in an extremely personal and emotionally raw piece of theatre, which exposes some of the feelings and challenges that surround coping with chronic depression, and how the partners of those people cope as well. Kimmings tells us the story of her and Tim’s falling in love, and the shock she got when she discovered he was taking strong anti-depressants and hadn’t told her about it.
What then follows is a series of scenes, which in typical Kimmings style tend to involve silly dances and ridiculous songs. These take us through the journey the couple went on when talking about and trying to work through Tim’s depression. Interspersed with these are recordings the couple made in their living room, where they openly and poignantly talk about depression, and how Tim coped (or didn’t cope) when he first started to get the symptoms.
Throughout the majority of the play Tim is wearing some form of head or eye covering (apparently his condition for agreeing to go onstage.) This has the interesting effect of separating the audience from him slightly and perhaps making it slightly harder to empathise with him. However, I don’t say this as a negative comment, as when at the end of the show he steps forward to directly address the audience, all headdresses are removed and he is revealed as the raw and very real man that he is, which is somehow made all the more poignant as it is the first time we have seen his face.
In by far the most moving part of the show, Tim frankly and artlessly talks to the audience about why he is doing this performance, and the levels of shame and humiliation he suffered that meant he sought no help until having a breakdown in his parents kitchen. Watching this couple perform the show, you wonder the emotional toll is it taking on them. It must be tough enough for a heavily pregnant woman to tour a piece of theatre with her fiancée at the best of times, let alone one that involves such personal material, and on the night I saw the performance it was clear that both parties were in quite an emotional state. Yet it is this honesty that makes it such a powerful piece of theatre, and why it stays with you long after leaving the venue.
The only slightly strange element of the show is how much of a medical-model for depression it presents; the only choice seems to be about whether Tim stays on or weans off his meds. There is no discussion about the question of therapy being used for helping with depression, despite the fact the show is very much about the importance of men being able to talk and open up. That being said, the show is very full, and certainly goes a long way towards opening up a discussion about depression in men, and emphasising how it must be talked about much much more.