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A Super Happy Story at Vault Festival | Review

A Super Happy StoryThe clue is in the title, of course, but there’s something so relentlessly joyous about the pre-show and the opening number in A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) that one very quickly gets the feeling that at some point, things are going to get altogether more downcast. Sally McKenzie (Madeleine MacMahon) had a childhood ambition: to change the world. For good or for ill, to what extent, how this would come about or how much it would cost to achieve this goal were all unknowns, but it’s an aim that still remains in Sally’s memory into adulthood, particularly as she finds herself in a job in which changing the world is but a pipe dream.

Suppose Sally had made a significant impact on the world stage: that would not necessarily have stopped her from ‘feeling super sad’ – it’s not difficult, for instance, to name a celebrity or two that has confessed to being emotionally crippled by strong feelings of loneliness at the height of their success. The musical numbers in this production sometimes advance the narrative, and when they don’t, the lively choreography and performances more than make up for any waiting for the story to continue.

One of those one-hour shows that goes at quite a pace, the pauses in storytelling for a song and dance are very welcome, slowing things down (while continuing to move around the performance space at speed) so that the audience is ready for the next stage of Sally’s journey. The show is divided into ‘chapters’ rather than scenes, each one announced just before it begins. It’s a comprehensive story, despite the brevity of the production, with plenty of details about Sally’s relationship with her mother (Sophie Clay) and a friendship (of sorts) with a boy who lives on the same street as her, Toby Wilson (Ed Yelland). For reasons explained in the show, Toby and Sally meet again years after their school days are over – the initial awkwardness in their first meetup as adults was palpable.

What I found especially appealing about this show is a refusal to set out clearly delineated solutions to the issues raised. The character development is frankly astonishing – it helps, perhaps, that this is a coming of age story as well as one that looks considerably at mental health. There are no miracle cures, no preference for one method of coping with depression over another. The costumes were largely bright and vibrant to match the set and atmosphere, at least of the earlier chapters. A sense of humour permeates proceedings, not least when an outdoor conversation cannot be fully dramatized. “We are not allowed to smoke in here [the venue],” the audience is told, “so use your imagination.”

I couldn’t work out whether MacMahon was in character or not before the show, encouraging the audience filing in to take the seats in the front rows, while engaging in banter with those who had arrived nice and early. Later on, it was admirable to see steely determination on Sally’s part – this wasn’t someone who was going to give up the fight easily. The production lurches from borderline euphoria to the depths of despair, which amplifies the complex feelings and emotions Sally encounters. There are (without giving too much away) a few ‘triggers’ for people who have experienced depression before – but, all things considered, this show is as educational as it is entertaining, as playful as it is poignant.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Laughter really can be the best medicine according to NHS and mental health charities Mind and Mental Health Foundation who are backing an award-winning musical comedy that throws glitter at depression.

As Blue Monday (21 January) – reported to be the most miserable day of the year – approaches, health professionals are encouraging people to use humour to combat the grim aftermath of Christmas, while reminding people that depression can strike at any time of the year.

While our default position when we’re feeling down may be to hibernate, doing the opposite – even if we don’t feel like it – is what will get us out of our misery rut. According to experts, laughter soothes tension, music and mood are inherently linked and spending time with friends makes you feel good.

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