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The last show I’m reviewing for mindshare is #nofilter, a blend of dramatic theatre and music at the Marion Cultural Centre last night.

Offering “a backstage voyeuristic view of The Black Dog Circus”, this was an intense experience from beginning to end, exploring themes of suicide, drugs, gender, rape, body dysmorphia and violence, with the audience seated at tables equipped with popcorn, glitter, tissues and patient clinical assessments of each of the casts’ characters.

In the first scene, we see a young girl who, after saying goodbye to her friend for the day, battles with demons, literally, as she tries to reconcile her fears and worries aided by an angel of sorts who is soon overpowered, culminating in the girl slitting her wrists in the bath.

The next scene opens with a clip of two schoolgirls sitting on a bed chatting, enter mum who is furious at their intimacy, throwing one out while she screams at the other (her daughter), packing her bags, so she can leave. Next, we see the daughter sleeping rough, shooting up, prostituting herself, the final part an overdose played out to an excellent cover of Madonna’s Like a Virgin, accompanied by a talented violinist.

One of the most poignant scenes centred around a girl wheeled onto the stage in a chair by one of the demons, who then proceeds to wind her up like a doll to perform, until she remembers her body and reveals a scar across her belly like a rictus. She spies three balloons at the top of a pole and scales it lithely to pop each one, watching as they explode into glitter.

In fact, balloons bookend the show – black ones escape from a box like desperate thoughts through to yellows rising indicative of hope, not before a single one of the latter kind is examined by each cast member as if confused by its bright presence.

And so, the show progresses deeper and deeper, each scene standing alone, but connected with the dark at play in our lives, how you keep it in check or not, the human condition stripped and raw. This was my top pick last year, but it was cancelled due to one of the cast members taking their own life, one of many images of young people flashed on the screen as the remainder sing a beautifully moving rendition of Coldplay’s Fix You to sobs in the crowd.

 

The purpose of the show, with part proceeds going to suicide awareness, is to normalise the conversation about mental health, to reassure people it’s okay to not be okay and that no perception of shame is too great to seek help. Powerful doesn’t cut it.

My fourth mental-health themed show to review for mindshare was Rose Callaghan’s 12 Rules for Life performed at the Rhino Rooms last night.

Originally from Melbourne, Rose moved to Sydney for, in her own words, ‘dick’, having been single for 7 years, which is almost 3 Olympics and in Australia, about 15 Prime Ministers. Rose thinks dating apps are ‘rivers of shit’, as many state their occupation as ‘CEO and Founder’, which she interprets as an overconfident Uber driver with an ABN.

So now armed with boyfriend and having grown out her fringe, which she refers to as ‘face curtains’ (and interestingly, men’s pubes as ‘dick beards’), Rose is seeking some rules for life. And that’s when she discovered Jordan Peterson, a psychologist and author of self-help books, aka ‘a Trojan horse for masochism’. Rose played some audio clips to demonstrate this, in which Peterson draws comparisons between humans and lobsters amongst other things, prompting Rose to exclaim:

He’s so sexist, he makes Trump look like Clementine Ford’s moon cup!

(at which point Rose checks the audience knows what a moon cup is, explaining it should be called what it is – ‘blood bucket’). Rose is a feminist, belonging to many groups on Facebook until they start fighting each other, at which point she cancels herself and joins a smaller group, until they start fighting each other and so on, until she’s in a group with just herself where ‘things are a lot calmer’. Suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder, this is ideal for Rose.

Rose believes only homeowners watch The Block and they should invent The Renters Block Edition, where the winner gets their bond back. Continuing the house theme, Rose spoke about how her baby boomer parents no longer have space for her small collection of childhood things, despite their huge empty house where her bedroom is now a study, which most in the audience could relate to, along with the way men come to bed and simply announce ‘I’m sleeping now’ and do just that.

Rose was entertaining, and when sharing her own life rules before closing the show, there were some fundamental messages – ‘own your mental health’ and ‘respect people’s mental health’, something we should all do, despite the challenges we’re often faced with. So, what are your rules for life? Mine’s simply ‘Life’s short, make fun of it.’

My third show to review for mindshare was Singin’ in the Pain last night at Nexus Arts in the Lion Arts Centre.

This is burlesque with a definitive kick, produced by Diana Divine who began by sharing her own story. On strong painkillers after putting her back out, which she later discovered she was allergic to, Diana performed a show in excruciating pain et voila, the title!

Diana removed her back brace to music to demonstrate burlesque for those unfamiliar with it and then sang about trying to accomplish things with a constantly shifting finish line. Her voice was amazing.

Diana introduced the first act – Jaqueline Boxx (aka Miss Disa-burly-tease) from the US. With Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which affects connective tissues, Jacqueline performed in a wheelchair as pertinent messages flashed across the screen behind, such as You don’t look ill and the one below, culminating in a defiant pose giving the finger.

Next up was the recently crowned burlesque idol SA who, with one hand deformed, fascinated with a fan dance, her energy and stage-coverage exhausting, quickly followed by Moisty Magic who shared her history of mental illness through song. Moisty’s voice wasn’t as strong as Diana’s and having Googled her, I found a far more profound performance she gave called Unique.

Madame Savage graced the stage next, drunk on love and high on prescriptions, who, suffering from diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis to name a few, demonstrated difficulties in the bedroom. Her act finished with a release of medical waste from above – empty blister packs, syringes, boxes, etc. – representing just a few months’ worth. Imagine this for everyone managing a debilitating condition.

The next act enthralled me – Laetitia Stitch who, after visiting ER with endless bleeding, was eventually diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome. Laetitia presented herself as a bandage, head to foot in white, which when peeled, revealed its symbolic red lining. Living with endometriosis myself, this resonated.

While the acts were not as polished as some I’ve seen at the Fringe, they were brave and the concept’s quite brilliant, in its attempt to shatter the assumptions associated with disability, highlight individual experience and demonstrate that accessibility shouldn’t be a barrier. I believe it achieved its goals.

My second Fringe show to review was Mickey D: CAN DO! at The Little Sparrow in Masonic Lodge, Gluttony’s new venue this year.

Deemed “a show with attitude, about attitude”, Mickey began by laying down some ground rules in his bandit basement comedy – there are no rules and we’re just here to laugh. A good start.

An advert for Cotton On in his “tropical dad shirt” and chequered socks (all about the finish line!), Mickey discusses the various greetings with accents using the obligatory how do you feel? replying with that’s why we have you ladies as men (some, most, all?) are construed as empty vessels when it comes to emotion.

His wife’s name is Beth, aka Boss, who is British so unaccustomed to how cold it can get here:

Beth – Can we turn the heating on?

Mickey – Heating?! We don’t have any heating! Heating fucked off in March!!

Beth is apparently 6 ft 8 and so rather than spooning, Mickey says she ladles him; he could be there for months. Mickey talks about his kids – his daughter whose accent is half Adelaidean, half Brummie so jokes they’re hanging out for a disability benefit and his son, who just sits there all day, staring, doesn’t do anything as Mickey snaps his fingers trying to get his attention, later revealing he’s only 10 months old.

When Mickey argues with his wife, he knows he’ll never win so simply relocates, however you ladies have freaky hearing and even then, she can detect his muffled words when he’s in his shed, head zipped into an empty golf bag. Beth’s nickname is Wolf – my wife will eat your wife! – then things turn serious (?) when Mickey shares that she helped him beat drugs, gambling and alcohol 15 years ago.

Mickey talks about ice, how he got tired of it when he found himself doing a tour of someone else’s home and confronting a “sharkie” in an On the Run at two in the morning (buying cheese Twisties for his daughter’s lunch) who asks him what the fuck you looking at? to which Mickey tells us, now I love a quiz. And then we hear the best heckle ever. Mickey explains how he went to the Middle East to gig for the troops there when an audience member mutters haven’t they been through enough?! A brilliant come back, flooring us all, including Mickey!

After closing the show with the words of his ex-girlfriend I’m leaving you now, Mickey then treats us to a bonus outside on the steps, incorporating passers-by and even the trams.

Underneath the joking, piss-taking and bravado there are pertinent messages – try anything once, take every opportunity, but most of all, have fun, something which can be increasingly difficult in today’s shock-cultured world. At this venue, it’s a sold-out show, but if you want some laughs elsewhere and are not easily offended, I’d recommend it.

As a Fringe reviewer of mental health-themed shows for mindshare, my first was Whiplash last night at the National Wine Centre.

Opening with You know the story; it starts with a date, Scott Wings invites us on his self-exploration, literally, as his heart abandons him on a date, apt for Valentine’s Day. A clever mix of physicality and poetry, there’s some stunning imagery, as Scott relays:

In darkness my heart packs its bags. The streets are all clots. There, an old thought begs for change.

Heart is a person, has a mind of its own, leaves the taxi in iambic pentameter mimicked by Scott. And so he goes inside himself to search for heart while on the date, chats with the café proprietor of his stomach, past his appendix, an old lego brick he swallowed years ago, skillfully personifying each body part. He checks his spine, which asks the cliched have you checked out your sleeve lately? and then dick interferes with a romantic brush of hands as they reach for their wine.

He goes to his tailbone to mess with the monkeys there, encounters the brain ship with its powerful, all-knowing presence, eventually reaching his shoulder blade on which he sits, feet dangling, to watch the date unfold. There’s a tree in his collarbone where he encounters himself at different ages – 16, 18, 25, 28, etc. – masturbating to porn, smoking a bong, until a fight breaks out, with his 30-year-old self shouting none of you fuckers have ever done any of your taxes! And when the wine sloshes down, his discomfort increases as he desperately tries to find something to say.

Scott’s array of emotions and energy is boundless, as he takes us through an evolutionary dance, encouraging audience participation, starting with one cell, which multiplies, becomes a worm, which sprouts legs, becomes a lizard and so on, until the brain ship looms large.

I found this concept particularly fascinating, as Scott’s headspace gets re-arranged with spider-like hands shifting thoughts, questions, worries, culminating in when will anyone prioritise me…?

All this time he’s still on the date until, when it comes to goodbye, she says:

Your stories are great and thanks for sharing, but you didn’t ask me a single question all night

causing his brain to fight with his heart, now returned. The ending is poignant – his six-year-old self appears with a flower and places it where his heart is; together they watch it bloom.

It was an incredible show, up there with some of the best we’ve seen at the Fringe and we’ve seen many. With fundamental themes of self-doubt and anxiety, ingeniously expressed through theatrical gestures and words back-grounded with music and mood lighting, it has something for everyone, go see.

5-stars

So I went to review my second Fringe show Friday night for mindshareScarred for Life at The Lab, Queen’s Theatre.

With the headline Man falls off bike, becomes star, Josh Belperio relays the time he flew over the handlebars of his bicycle, ruptured his spleen and nearly bled to death through a series of comical and clever songs on the piano, reminiscent of Tim Minchin.

Josh began by taking us back to when he was little, where he was held back in ‘fun skills’ because of his slight touch of autism, before finding his place at the piano and then falling from it (literally), which won him $500 in Australia’s Funniest Home Videos courtesy of his mum filming it. His first scar came at 15 from running through a plate glass door, severing the tendon and artery, with thankfully no nerve damage.

The day of his accident he was anxious and rushing to the Festival Theatre to workshop ‘The Unmentionable Musical’ as he calls it, approached a roundabout too fast, as did a car from his right. He slammed on his brakes. The bike stopped, he didn’t. And as he gets to his feet he feels strange, as if his body’s trying to process something, all this to terse music.

At home his parents (both doctors) put him to bed and monitor him, until Josh wakes feeling strange again. His mother takes one look at him and rushes him to hospital, not before Josh collapses and asks his boyfriend Matthew am I dying? A CT scan reveals a ruptured spleen, which requires immediate surgery and as the mask comes down, all Josh can think of is all the music he has left to write.

Having lost 2 litres of blood, Josh is transferred to ICU, which is the title of a highly entertaining song through the eyes of the ICU nurse, followed by ‘Sample pack of information for families of deceased patients – spare copies’ where Josh summarises each pamphlet inside. My favourite song was ‘Watching me pee into a bottle’, a tender exchange between Josh and Matthew, in which love and affection grows like my urinal collection.

Towards the end Josh reveals his eight-inch medical marvel (his scar), an angry looking welt, which he thinks ugly, but to Matthew it’s beautiful because it represents how his life was saved. The mental health aspect of the show is anxiety and how Josh manages it – present before his accident and escalating after – to enable him to live the life he wants, to not be scared, to make peace with his scar and most importantly, to get back on his bike. Josh is a talented artist, and gave a funny and moving performance through theatrical song. It’s a show I’d recommend.

As a Fringe reviewer of shows with a mental health theme for mindshare, I went along to my first one Monday night; It’s Not Easy Being Green, a cabaret at the Chateaux Apollo.

Written and performed by Karen Lee Roberts accompanied by Mr Sunshine (aka Jeff Usher) on keys, it was an insight into a struggle with mental wellness (not illness) via a series of scenes, opening with Christmas Eve where everything was unravelling. Karen, in character, compared her state of mind to algae – green and always on edge, waiting to be devoured by something bigger – and talked about how depression is still taboo, asking can’t people bear to hear the truth??

Each scene explored acceptable conversation versus reality – the dinner party where she declared the food far better than what she’d received in hospital when mentally unstable; the photos of her wedding in which professionals expertly covered her self-harming scars; and the change in her behaviour when she came off her meds, the dark places she visited trapped by her myriads of faults and flaws.

And each snapshot was framed in song – ‘Problem solver’ and ‘Chameleon’ to name a few, the latter advising to keep your skin, don’t rearrange, a poignant message. Karen had an amazing voice pitched with feeling, all songs self-written to be made into a CD shortly. Then my husband became part of the show being invited on stage to play Daniel, the guy she’d met on Tinder, an amusing interlude to say the least!

The hour offered a raw, honest account of a person stripped bare – juggling demons, meds and their inevitable side effects with healthy eating, exercise and positive action – and revisited the Christmas Eve scene, a clever bookend, where the tree in the distance no longer represented something to hang from, but life itself.

I’m not a big fan of cabaret, so this wasn’t a show I chose to review, but because of its ability to leap beyond comfy mental health, I’m glad I did. Unfortunately the last performance was yesterday (it ran for three nights only), but if it returns next year I’d recommend the experience. Until then I’ll leave you with the closing line – it’s not easy being green, but it’s better than being blue.     

No, not quite, as this all took place in the latter half of last year, but the new one prompted me to look back on the changes I’d made, the impact they’ve had and thought I’d share them with you.

It actually all started the year before, so 2016, when I went to the doctors to discuss the side-effects of the medication I was on for my endometriosis (I believed they were making me short-tempered, moody, etc.), however, she explained that due to the low dosage of each of them, it was unlikely they were the cause.

She then asked me if anything had changed in my life recently, to which I replied I now work part time and use Fridays to focus on my writing, had joined three poetry groups, started an online course and was finalising my second collection. She pointed out that in actual fact I work full time and had taken on additional commitments, and I thought, well yes, if you put it like that (isn’t it funny how it takes someone else to point out these things and the different perceptions of writing as work?)

Anyway, it got me thinking, and I concluded that I only get stressed, ratty, etc. when I try to do too much, and the only person putting pressure on me, was me. For example, I like to exercise three times a week and if I didn’t achieve this, I’d feel guilty. One of the days I exercised was a Friday followed by the whole beauty regime (you know what I mean), doing some washing, tidying, making appointments, responding to emails, etc. so that before I knew it, it was nearly lunchtime. What was I doing…this is my writing day!

Still on the topic of exercise, I used to drive into work on the days I did it because I thought it quicker, so typically Mondays and Wednesdays to complement the Friday. Driving into the city from where we live at peak time is extremely frustrating (yes, even here). A 16km trip can take over an hour. And so I’d rush in, struggle to find a park, work, rush home, exercise, cook dinner, eat and then have little energy to do anything else before bed.

So, over the months that followed, I gradually made changes. I now exercise on a Saturday morning instead of a Friday, freeing up the latter to do what I should be doing, poetry.

I no longer drive into work. I cycle to the train station some ten minutes from our house (so exercise in itself albeit small), store my bike in the locker I rent and take the train in, where I can read, write, check messages, listen to music, even nap if it’s quiet enough.

We’ve started using Hello Fresh, a meal service which delivers the ingredients to make three meals a week to our door, which in turn avoids that age-old question “what are we having for dinner tonight?!” and eating the same thing.

I’ve also negotiated to work from home every Wednesday because with access to systems, I can do my job anywhere. This, I feel, has been the biggest change and is helping me to manage my endometriosis (i.e. less travel, less rush, less stress), which appears to be flaring up again annoyingly.

Small changes have made a significant impact. Coupled with taking things easier and not trying to do everything at once (because who is chasing me for it – no one!) has made me a happier, less stressed, more balanced person (cue sigh of relief from husband). So, my message to you? It’s your life, make of it the best you can.

Just want to share an insightful post by Worcestershire Poet Laureate Nina Lewis, in which she shares some thoughts and poems on mental health (one of which I penned myself)

World Mental Health Day in Poetry

 

Today is World Mental Health Day, and this is an initiative led by Mental Health Australia to challenge the perception of mental health issues and encourage us all to view them in a positive light, in a bid to reduce stigma and enable more people to seek support.

 

 

Mental Health Australia aims to:

promote mentally healthy communities, educate Australians on mental health issues, conduct research into mental health and reform Australia’s mental health system.

And their Do you see what I see? is a clever concept, using strong visuals to highlight that we all see things differently and should work together to find common ground.

Mental health is defined by the World Health Organization as:

a state of well-being in which every individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community.

As Beyond Blue states, mental health is about wellness rather than illness.

For me, mental health is a delicate thing to be balanced and weighted against whatever life throws at it. Sometimes it’s tough and exhausting, so I write to help mine and travel, taking time out when I need to.

So, make a mental health promise to yourself today; it’s just as important as the physical one.

 

Just like you

 

She tries to fit in

pulls at her mouth to make it a smile

blinks her eyes hard to clear out the clouds.

 

She even pretends she’s alive

puts a bird in her heart so it chirps with a beat.

 

But she can’t seem to shut up her sadness

it speaks when she thinks that she is.

 

Copyright © J V Birch 2013

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