A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad)
Jon Brittain and Matthew Floyd Jones
Sally wants to change the world. And on first glimpse, this witty, bright 16-year-old, moshing to indie tracks and clutching “beer from a bottle”, looks on track to go just about anywhere she wants. That is, until depression rears its ugly head, rips her plans into shreds and won’t leave her alone.
Super Happy Story is from Silent Uproar, the theatre group who want to tell “stories to make the world less sh.t.” And as we follow Sally from unstoppable energetic teenager to attempted suicide and recovery, the musical's format is used to dig beyond the surface glitz of chirpy singing numbers, cutting open the wound of depression for all to see.
While this might not make “the world less sh..t”, it does make for a brutally honest play that is worth seeing whether you’ve rubbed up against depression either personally, or through someone else in your life or not at all, but will learn something about it.
As Sally says in her opening number and then through chapters of the play structured to mark out sections of her life: “there are serious bits. Like when I realized I was ill. Or when I dropped out of college. Or when I tried to kill myself. But hey, if you can ignore all of that… it’s a super, happy show, except for all the bits about depression.”
It sounds "super" bleak, but this story is told in a way that only transmits uplifting messages, dealing directly with such subject matter rarely aired so honestly. Written by Jon Brittain (Rotterdam, Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho) with music by Matthew Floyd Jones (Frisky and Mannish), the characters are fictional, but the team spent year researching for the show, interviewing 50 people living with depression as well as speaking to psychiatrists, the NHS and mental health charities. Such in-depth investment is reflected right back at us.
The characters are exuberant and narratives hilarious in a sad but happy way from the tender relationship between Sally and her former neighbour, Toby, to the hilarious scenarios from Disneyland Paris where Toby gives Sally the complete works of Meatloaf to the pair canvasing the high street on behalf of a dog charity.
Madeleine MacMahon as Sally is heartbreakingly convincing in her character transformations, while Sophie Clay and Ed Yelland spin off her moods at the speed of light shifting between characters, costumes and song as the play whips through the chapters of Sally’s life.
By highlighting the comedy alongside such fraught situations, this play is not only highly watchable, but becomes a deeply emotional experience as we follow Sally along her journey of depression from denial, discovery and recovery.
Perhaps the most poignant part of the evening is when Sally realises that depression is something that doesn’t just “go away” but will always be there so it’s not just a case of getting better, but learning to live with it. Such a play would do well being rolled out to students nationwide as, through such entertaining means, important, life-changing messages are transmitted through theatre. It's back in April at the Vaults so don't miss it.
Reviewer: Rachel Nouchi