Everything is Absolutely Fine: A Musical – North Wall Oxford/Hannah Elsy Productions

Reviewer: Helen Tope

Writer: Alice Keedwell

Music / Lyrics: Harry Blake

Director: Valentina Ceschi

Sharply observed and deeply funny, Everything is Absolutely Fine is a musical exploring the unlikely subject of mental health.

Written and performed by Alice Keedwell and Harry Blake, the musical looks at the life of a single character, also called Alice. We are introduced to her via a monologue of spiralling thoughts. From waking up late, Alice goes through a breakdown of her life: she has made bad choices; she will never be cool, calm or confident. Performed on an empty stage with Anxiety on keyboards, Alice sings to us in her pyjamas. Played by Blake, Anxiety uses deadpan intercuts as Alice attempts to get on with her day. Questioning Alice’s motivations – every thought is second-guessed – Anxiety is clearly running the show.

Perceptions do a lot of the heavy lifting in this musical: Blake’s lyrics skewer our ideas of normality. Alice, bumping into Sarah, (a woman she often sees at her local pub) immediately projects an image of confidence onto her. In a great joke, Anxiety notes that she “probably shops at Cos”. The tendency of Anxiety to paint the world as black and white, seeps into Alice’s way of seeing other people. There is complete confidence, or utter failure. Anxiety makes no allowance for anything in-between. However, the reality is that Alice is not hopelessly awkward or incompetent; she is excellent at her Occupational Health job – calm, thorough – putting patients before policy. As Alice negotiates her way through a demanding workload, and shopping at Waitrose without embarrassing herself, the possibility that something will happen – confirming Alice’s worst fears – hangs heavy in the air.

What Everything is Absolutely Fine nails is the depiction of what anxiety looks, and feels like, from the inside. The barrage of self-talk (harmful, repetitive thoughts) will be familiar to anyone who’s experienced anxiety. While much of this is played for laughs – we are encouraged by Keedwell to see the absurdity in Anxiety’s dialogue – his asides quickly descend into much crueller, darker tones. The musical is careful not to offer any quick fixes, either. There are no easy answers when it comes to anxiety: as the musical suggests: “a problem shared is still a problem”.

This is a beautifully crafted musical – Keedwell’s take on anxiety disorders is unflinchingly honest, but Blake’s bright, defiant theme, sung by Keedwell, refuses to be punctured by Anxiety’s bristling assertions. Everything is Absolutely Fine packs in so much emotional detail, not least in the ballad Lost in Copenhagen where Alice contemplates another Scandi boxset binge, rather than socialising at the pub. In discussing mental health, Keedwell and Blake create a tone that is finely balanced. Everything is Absolutely Fine operates in the area between black and white – the possibilities that anxiety refuses to see. Rather than plain reassurance, this musical goes much deeper. Taking a good, honest look at mental health, Everything is Absolutely Fine suggests that while absolutely fine may not be achievable; doing okay, feeling alright, may just be enough.

 Reviewed on 15 May 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Sharply observed and deeply funny

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