This simple yet intensely layered performance deserves to be one of the stand-out shows of this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
It’s a big call to make when the Festival hasn’t even formally started yet, but it’s heartening to see such provocative juxtapositioning of light and dark – life-threatening illness, heart-warming humour, joyful young love and dark despair – blended in such an intoxicating mix and treated so sensitively and cleverly.
And the daft dancing is awesome.
The concept is fairly basic: Advertising chap meets performance artist; they fall in love and then learn to deal with the elephant in their relationship – Tim’s clinical depression and anxiety. Not the obvious choice for a comedy festival routine – although the fine lines between mental illness and comic relief are increasingly being explored, it seems.
London-based, award-winning Kimmings has a long career as an artist, activist and writer. She has a history of throwing herself into projects: getting drunk for a week to see if she was still funny, and spending a year as a pop star invented by her nine-year-old niece to “prove that a feminist alternative to tween culture was viable and needed”. By her own admission, she loves to stymie stigma and make taboos turn tail. There’s a strong element of controlled chaos in the show that I’d hazard is her hallmark.
Grayburn has no theatre background – although anyone who has sat through a sales meeting might challenge that – but then he had no background in depression eight years ago either. His experience since then – sparked by the catalyst of Robin Williams’ death last year – is what prompted the pair to present their message of hope in this unusual format.
And yes, there is a genuine message within the laughs, drama, storytelling and dance routines: That if a young man feels he must hide his depression – not even learning his own symptoms – then something is seriously wrong.
As Kimmings says: “I was so angry I could feel a new show coming on.”
While it is clear she is the leading creative force in this partnership, he is right up there matching her, move for move, in both the goofball fun and fizz that lightens the darker content, but also in the nerve-scraping episodes when the raw depths of his pain are exposed. He deserves a medal for his bravery.
Instead he has won awards in the Adelaide and Perth fringe festivals and it will be interesting to see what he does after his year spent touring the show: an office job may never again hold the same allure.
Some interesting tools are used to help diffuse Grayburn’s discomfort at being the focus – a series of masks and creative lighting help him avoid the eye contact that he finds so painful, and some of the more harrowing stages of their journey are told through recorded conversations relayed via a Perspex box.
Some artful scripting overcomes any potential awkwardness from this.
But, more importantly, the pair are highly engaging and share their story with unnerving honesty, lack of sentimentality and the sort of humour that gives you hope. The whole set could have collapsed and I’m sure the full house on their opening night would have leapt up to hold it and encouraged them to keep going.
It didn’t collapse.
They were brilliant.
I could have hugged them.
Theatre Works presents
Fake it ‘til you Make it
by Bryony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn
Venue: Theatre Works | Acland Street, St Kilda
Dates: 18 Mar – 5 Apr 2015
Tickets: $35 – 25
Bookings: theatreworks.org.au | 03 9534 3388