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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.

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.     

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