Fake It ‘til You Make It
Brisbane Powerhouse & Theatre Works
June 24 – 28 2015
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Do you wake up in the morning and need help to lift your head?
Do you read obituaries and feel jealous of the dead?
It’s like living on a cliff side, not knowing when you’ll dive.
Do you know? Do you know what it’s like to die alive?
Most people who think they’re happy haven’t thought about it enough.
– Diana Goodman, Next To Normal
Meet Bryony and Tim: Bryony is an outrageous, hilarious and fearless performance artist from London; Tim is an outrageous, hilarious and fearless account manager from a top advertising agency.
Bryony spends most of her life on tour, trying to change the world. Tim spends most of his life at a desk trying to sell the world. Six months into their relationship, Bryony discovers that Tim suffers from severe clinical depression – a secret he had kept for a very long time.
BUT WAIT. I HAD NO IDEA THAT THIS WAS BRYONY KIMMINGS WHO DID THE FANNY SONG. OMG. GOLD.
BUT THE SHOW.
The show is designed to get us talking. About depression. About the signs and symptoms and what the hell to do with a person – with ourselves – when the impact of the illness becomes impossible to ignore.
It’s beautiful, powerful, poignant.
This show should be seen by everyone.
Now if you didn’t know this already, me and Tim are a real life human being couple, so this unfortunately guys is going to be a love story.
We’ve kind of taken out the mundanity of everyday existence for you but what we haven’t been able to cut out is all the darkness because this is a show about clinical depression.
Bryony Kimmings & Tim Grayburn share some of their most intimate real-life moments. Basically, we’re invited into their living room to listen to their story. They are in their underwear, wearing wicker baskets on their heads, shaking maracas, and dancing and singing to the muzak so, you know, NORMAL. We feel like we know them. We feel like we should have noticed something, said something…
BUT THEY HAVE BEEN HIDING AND SINGING AND DANCING IN THEIR UNDERWEAR BENEATH WICKER BASKETS. HOW WERE WE TO KNOW?
Unabashedly, they bring us all of the complex, raw emotions – sometimes naturalistically, sometimes symbolically – of Tim’s anxiety and clinical depression, and Bryony’s unwavering love and support for him. At times it’s so incredibly funny, even when it’s sad, that I can only rest my cool glass against my cheek and try not to breathe because if I breathe I might cry, or laugh, at the wrong time.
It’s the stuff of millions of people’s lives, trying to make things work, at work and at school and at home, whilst suffering the crippling feelings of chronic depression. And not waving but drowning. We learn about them through mambo. That’s right, The Symptoms of Depression delivered via a SMASH style mambo number. Bryony and Tim dance and hold up pieces of card, with the symptoms written on them in black pen, dazzling their way through fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, sadness, insomnia, guilt and recurrent thoughts of death…faking it ‘til they make it.
Are we not all living like this? Or, have we not, at some stage or another, lived like this? Imagine how many of us must go through life undiagnosed!
72% of people treated for depression are female yet
I woke up one morning and tears just poured out of my face into my pillow. I couldn’t believe what was going on to be honest. I hadn’t cried for years.
Segments from a pre-recorded conversation help to paint the picture of the suffering so many couples share. Not all couples speak so candidly though, and the ultimate lesson is in the reminder that we must always find a way to talk about this stuff.
I don’t think, no matter how many shows I do, I’ll be a performer to be honest but I’m not here to perform, that’s Bryony’s job. I’m here to be a real life example of depression.
If it was any other illness, I’d be on the internet everyday trying to get better but I didn’t because I was too ashamed to even type it in.
I agreed to do this show, in this outfit, dancing around with my mental girlfriend just in case I might help someone like myself.
Tim, a “non-performer”, has no direct eye contact with the audience until the end of the show (and after it, of course, when we meet the couple. They are exactly as they seem to be. Gorgeous, genuine, humble). Instead, he wears masks: binoculars, white cotton clouds, a goat’s head, a mass of tangled rope. Wearing clouds when the two meet, Bryony believes he is “sent from heaven”. He’s fun and ambitious and enthusiastic and capable of anything. In the latter garb he is a confused mess of feelings, and reminds me of Scarecrow. And you know I’m not talking about Dorothy’s friend. Horrifying.
More disturbingly, appearing with a paper bag over his head, Tim displays no feelings whatsoever. In a heartbreaking one-person-pas-de-deux, Bryony manipulates Tim’s limbs to hold her in an embrace beneath his forlorn looking paper bag head. If there is anyone who doesn’t recognise this precise moment of unresponsiveness, either in themselves or in someone they love, they should be grateful for that.
If only I would have spoken about it or felt comfortable to talk about it, it would have been prevented I believe at an earlier stage.
I haven’t seen a lot of live theatre about mental illness and depression that actually succeeds in making us feel all the feelings. Fake It ‘til You Make It brilliantly uses basic theatrical storytelling devices to give us insight into the specifics of one couple’s battle, as well as hope for everyone’s struggle. The struggle is real.
This is a “work in progress showing” preceding a special festival edition of the production for Latitude festival. I’m wondering what else Bryony and Tim will do with their story, and will it continue to evolve, as a new little person is welcomed into their world? Bryony states matter-of-factly that they will be speaking openly with their child about Tim’s depression and anxiety. And so the conversation continues.
Have you ever talked to a child about adult depression? Have you ever had to answer tricky questions like, “Why does my dad act the way he does?” and “What’s going on in Mum’s head when she’s not herself?”
I’m about to trade a few Brisvegas trips for Noosa trips in another week’s time, for Dream Home rehearsals so I may need to listen to something else to get into the ex-model Colette’s head, but lately I’ve been listening to Next To Normal again (watch the whole thing here. Or check out the archived Twitter performance here).
In the meantime, here’s a rehearsal clip from Oscar’s production of Next To Normal because HOPE.
Update. Chris said: I went in cold. I had no idea what I was in for. I didn’t know a thing about the play and that’s sorta’ how I like it. If I’d known the subject material, I probably would’ve reacted as many of my friends did to Next To Normal. “Oh, that sounds great…nothing like a real bummer for a great night out!” All I’d heard was, “I hear it’s great”. Brilliant! I thought. I’m in!
And then I meet Bryony and Tim – baskets covering their heads – singing a song about how 80% of the patients in the GP waiting room have mental illness (80%!). And I find myself smiling. And thinking. Bryony is an obvious performer, comfortable, strong and confident in front of the crowd. Tim is great too, but you can tell he’s new to this; he’s not comfortable, almost shy. But it works.
It begins awkwardly, uncomfortably even, I suppose in the same way that a conversation about mental health always starts, but as the show continues it becomes charming, sincere, sweet and tender. You can’t help but fall a little in love with this wonderful pair.
They take us on a short journey. We see how the couple deals with the clinical depression that affects them both, one directly, one indirectly (but is anyone ever indirectly affected by their partner’s illness?). We’re given a window into their private lives and we start to appreciate how their struggle has evolved. One of the highlights of the evening was the “under the doona” song sung by Tim as he played guitar.
The story is told with honesty. To me, it almost seemed too honest in parts, with my inner cynic saying, “how much of this is real, and how much are they playing the part for effect?” I couldn’t tell you if what I saw was the honest story of these two people, or a story of two people told honestly. And that’s a win in my book. You’ll laugh, you’ll feel; you might shed a tear, but either way you’ll be touched by this.
Tim and Bryony are beautiful and tender and relatable.
Through their eyes we see exactly what it’s like to live with someone who suffers from chronic depression and we also gain insight into that chronic depressive state. The courage and transparency of these artists and their original show earns them a heartfelt standing ovation in Brisbane. The overwhelming feeling in the Visy and afterwards, upstairs over drinks with the artists and Artistic Director of Brisbane Powerhouse, Kris Stewart, is one of solidarity and compassion and HOPE. The same tone needs to continue to be adopted in our conversations about anxiety and depression.
Without the conversation nothing changes, no one speaks out and the silence is deafening.
Extracts from the show taken from Natalie Whiting’s interview for ABC Radio