Writer: Jon Brittain
Composer: Matthew Floyd Jones
Director: Alex Mitchell
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) burst on the scene to enthusiastic reviews and an award or two at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017. Now the Hull-based theatre company, Silent Uproar, is taking it on an extensive national tour of mostly one- and two-nighters.
Wakefield Theatre Royal’s Walker Studio may not have offered ideal sight-lines for the production, but, even before the official start, the cosy 50-seater venue sparked into life with Madeleine MacMahon’s relentlessly upbeat chat. The opening of the play continues in similar vein, costumes all glitter and sequins, a simple set of self-conscious theatricality, and bouncy songs about how cheerful and happy we all are.
The skill of writers Jon Brittain and Matthew Floyd Jones, director Alex Mitchell and his cast of three is to take a “super sad” subject (depression) and present it in a way that amuses and entertains. In the end, the message is positive and optimistic, though the play doesn’t shy away from the depths of blind fury and suicidal despair that the illness can bring.
The play covers ten years of Sally’s life, from 16 to 26, a roller-coaster of an existence, from the best night of her life through the onset of depression, dead-end jobs, counseling and support groups, apparent recovery followed by an aborted suicide attempt, through to an acceptance of life and herself. Sally has some reasons for depression – being neglected by her self-obsessed mother, for instance – but, of course, the main reason lies in herself. Her conviction at 16 that she is going to change the world, is doomed to disappointment.
As Sally, Madeleine MacMahon embodies the strengths of the play and production. Her energy in motormouth monologues and frantic dance routines contrasts with her drained listlessness when she sees no future for herself, but mostly it’s the explosive energy that predominates. Sophie Clay and Ed Yelland share in this, not least in their ability to switch characters by quick changes in costume or expression. Among the medley of characters – some comic caricatures – that they create, there are a few who come over as touchingly real people: Yelland as the gauche, doggedly kindly boyfriend, for instance, or Clay dragging on a cigarette and gloomily imparting good advice as a fellow-sufferer.
Floyd Jones’ songs cover the emotional range of the play, but the majority are danceable hymns to happiness and Tom Penn’s piano accompaniment is as breezy as one could wish. A Super Happy Story takes its subject matter seriously, but “serious” is the last word you would apply to the tone of the production. The phrase in Silent Uproar’s mission statement – “playful and provocative” – is much nearer the mark.
Touring nationwide | Image: The Other Richard