With many theatre companies now choosing to tackle the difficult subject of depression, an absurd comedy on the topic is an intriguing prospect. How exactly do you go about making mental illness funny?
Written and co-directed by Sam Bailey, and based on his own experience of living with clinical depression, Black Dog Gold Fish tells the story of Remy, a disillusioned aquarium employee on a mission to liberate the fish he loves. But then he accidentally kills one, and everything starts to unravel – not least because the dead goldfish keeps following him around and seems to have a worrying violent streak.
After an opening scene in which the three actors dance around the stage pretending to be goby fish, it’s easy to wonder what this can possibly have to do with depression. But as Remy’s story unfolds, and particularly as we observe his conversations with the goldfish, it all starts to become clear. ‘My brain hurts all the time now,’ he explains at one point. Later, the goldfish encourages members of the audience to tell Remy what he wants to hear, to applaud and cheer him… before reminding him we’re just fish; all our compliments are just in his head. It’s a savagely honest depiction of the way depression works, and how it can isolate us from the rest of the world, building up barriers between us and the people who could help.
So the show does make a serious point, but wraps it up in Parrot in the Tank’s trademark ‘ridiculous humour’, in an effort to show how we’re all a bit mad sometimes, depression or no depression. Teenage biology student Kyle keeps accidentally murdering jellyfish, and the aquarium has started serving up its fish in the canteen, because apparently visitors would rather eat them than look at them. With three great comic performances from the cast – Joe Boylan, Andrea Foa & Kyle Shephard, this is a show we can easily sit back and enjoy (albeit in a slightly baffled way), but that also gives us plenty to think about.
The dream-like world of the aquarium is brought beautifully to life with some lovely creative touches from designer Anisha Fields. Fish are made out of balloons, pillows and gloves, and the effect of these is at times genuinely quite mesmerising. Meanwhile, a large curved window at the rear of the stage leads us to question if we’re the observers or the observed.
So it turns out you can make depression funny… but what Black Dog Gold Fish never does is mock; the aim of the show is to share a little insight into how depression feels, from someone who really knows. I certainly feel a little more educated – and entertained – for having seen it.
Review by Liz Dyer
Black Dog Gold Fish
A fantastical story of three men and a goldfish is spun together with striking design in this funny and touching tale on what it’s really like to live with depression
Inspired by writer and director Sam Bailey’s own personal history, and created by Parrot in the Tank in collaboration with Barrel Organ’s Joe Boylan, Gaulier graduate Andrea Foa and actor and filmmaker Kyle Shephard, Black Dog Gold Fish explores the repercussions of clinical depression on day to day life, spinning the story of one troubled aquarium employee as he tries to liberate the captive fish back into the sea. In spite of his best efforts he accidentally punches one of the fish to death and is thrown face to face with his own Black Dog; a goldfish with a silver tongue.
The show premieres at the Hen & Chickens following scratch performances at the Vault Festival 2015, and a period of redevelopment supported by Arts Council England.
Director and writer Sam Bailey said, “I wanted to make a show that dealt with depression, partly to air out the thoughts and discoveries I’d had from struggling with it through most of my adult life, but out of a sort of responsibility to create work that makes it more visible and accessible to audiences. There is a lot of good things happening in the UK, but we’re still quite far off from accepting its presence like other illnesses, and this is a story that I feel I need to tell.”
Suitable for ages: 14+ | Running Time: 1 hr (no interval)
@parrotinthetank | #BlackDogGoldFIsh |
Hen & Chicken’s Theatre, 109 St Paul’s Road, London N1 2NA
Tue 15th March – Sun 27th March 2015