Depression can be terrifying when you're caught in its grip. By making a literal song and dance about it, Hull-based theatre company Silent Uproar's A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) brings that home, but with humour that's as warm as a hug.
Writer Jon Brittain brought cabaret to the Iron Lady in Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho, and meticulous research and sensitivity to transgender issues in Rotterdam. Here, based on interviews with mental health organisations and sufferers of depression, he's crafted a musical about Sally (Madeleine MacMahon), told in chapters. She's a happy person. Only she's not. Inside, nothing feels right.
There's a knowingness to the primary-coloured breeziness of the opening number, sung by MacMahon with Sophie Clay and Ed Yelland, who play the various friends and family in Sally's life. It's almost too much, trying too hard – like the smile that makes Sally's jaw ache as she tries to keep it on her face.
This is a production of clever contrasts. Director Alex Mitchell and musical director Matthew Floyd Jones (also on piano) use the opening upbeat tone to knock us for six when Sally ditches the microphone, turns to us and recounts her first breakdown. Quietly delivered by a superb MacMahon, with aching vulnerability, it's suddenly personal and painful.
Well acted by all of the cast, A Super Happy Story doesn't shy away from the darkness of depression, but empathy pours off the stage. Well aimed at audiences of 16+, Brittain's unshowy writing brings mental illness into the light.