Balancing Acts, a subtle yet powerful piece of new writing from the Kaleido Film Collective and Feral Foxy Ladies, is part video installation, part physical theatre and part confessional memoir on the subject of depression and how to cope with it that delivers quite a punch in its short running time.
The work’s only stage performer, Katherine Vince, is the key to the performance’s impact. Against a background of ethnographic video footage, which contains testimony from people with depression and a series of swirling visual metaphors and kaleidoscopic cityscapes, she commands the stage, taking on the identities of the people who have shared their stories. We meet a young woman, for instance, who finds solace in swimming, and an older man who searches for respite by joining a choir. The way she interacts and plays off the video footage and fluidly works with on-stage props allows the stories to come alive for the audience, rather than stay confined to the screen.
The performance is structured around the experience of six “balancers”, or people who are trying to work their way through mental illness by finding their own coping mechanisms. The stories are, of course, highly individual, but tap into the pervading social discourse surrounding mental health. Anyone who has ever had a brush with mental illness will recognise the rhetoric (“I felt so guilty- what do I have to complain about?” “I couldn’t move- I just wanted to hide away”), and so the play becomes just as much about how we speak about mental health as how we cope with it. Further than that, the work is also about how mental illness becomes encoded in our bodies. Vince is an incredibly physical performer- she brings mental processes into the physical realm, thus adding yet another dimension to its multifaceted treatment of its theme.
The subject matter is undeniably personal for Vince. She becomes the sixth “balancer” herself and speaks emotively about the respite from depression her performance career has afforded her. This, in a sense, is the reason why the work is so successful: it connects with an emotional realness that is as arresting as it is rare.
Balancing Acts is a good title for this show. Even though the cinematography might not be entirely original, nor the subject matter particularly ground-breaking, the raw emotion of everyday people balancing their lives as best they can gives a rare insight into the everyday experience of depression.
Balancing Acts played at the Camden People’s Theatre until 8th December.