Head Hand Head[author-post-rating] (3/5 stars)

Hand Head Hand is a simple show: Laura Jane Dean sits on a chair in a tiny studio and talks to us about her life with OCD. She takes us through the rituals she finds necessary and comforting, the rituals that help her to overcome the constant dread that something terrible is going to happen, that people she loves will die. Dean is a pleasantly unassuming performer, smiling shyly at her audience as she pours out her heart. It’s a well-judged show, though, that makes us feel complicit in helping her to get through this rather than slipping into voyeurism as it so easily could.

Dean is right, of course: death is the only certainty in life, but we tend not to dwell on it, because that way madness lies. And I don’t use the word “madness” lightly. This confessional show is both bleak and hopeful; Dean catalogues her obsessions, documents the years that they dominated her life, tries to explain why she feels compelled to touch and re-touch, to rearrange, to count to five. She talks of eating her dinner in car parks to avoid being alone in case she chokes. Of telling her Mum every morning that she’s scared her mum won’t come home from work. Of tiptoeing round the bedroom rearranging and aligning objects “until it feels right”, while her boyfriend sleeps. We all fear the worst sometimes, and we all get overwhelmed. Dean invites us into her world, a world where these fears aren’t fleeting, they are all-consuming.

It’s not a perfect show and could be trimmed a bit, here and there – the repetitions of OCD are necessarily quite dull, and although we need to understand, there are bits that stretch slightly too long. This window into the psyche is fascinating and sad, but perhaps doesn’t always lend itself as well to theatre. The show is at its best when it’s just Dean talking to us. There are some more theatrical moments, with props and movement, but the show doesn’t need them and they feel a bit out of place in this otherwise very un-showy show.

There is some nice interplay between Dean, live on stage, and her own recorded voice, allowing us to glimpse what it might be like to have constant, nagging fears not letting you rest. She shares parental advice, “Don’t worry, be happy” and “Worrying won’t get you anywhere.” Well, worrying has brought Dean here, and driven her to make a quietly devastating show that blazes with honesty.

Head Hand Head is at C Nova until 13 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.