Still on a high from its successful stint at the Vaults Festival, A Super Happy Story (About Being Super Sad) returns to the stage and brings with it a natural and refreshingly honest take on living with depression. Written by Olivier Award winner Jon Brittain and presented by Hull-based theatre company Silent Uproar, the musical dedicates its mission to creating an open dialogue about the dreaded black dog without prejudice, exploitation or glamorisation.
Sally (Madeleine MacMahon) is convinced she is going to change the world, she has grand plans that seem entirely plausible. That is, until her 16th birthday where everything goes inexplicably wrong. Accompanied by bubbly melody the audience travels with Sally through her ten year battle with depression. We see her highs – she asks for help, goes to therapy and begins taking antidepressants – and her lowest lows – she becomes a “chugger” clad in a humiliating dog costume, viciously isolates herself and attempts suicide.
It is not without sophistication that these heart wrenching truths are told. Sally’s attempted suicide, unlike so many other productions (I’m looking at you Thirteen Reasons Why), is done carefully and without unnecessarily explicit imagery. Through word of mouth and underwhelming song, imaginations are triggered into experiencing Sally’s darkest moments.
MacMahon as Sally seems aggressively happy as host. She laughs with the audience as we reach for our seats, casually riffing and creating a warm and comfortable atmosphere: this is a safe space. I am unconvinced by the play’s reliance on song to juxtapose it’s inherently melancholy nature. MacMahon does well, indeed better, with her words and has undeniable bravado that is clouded by subpar singing and a distracting use of microphones. I am left with a desire for more music, or none at all.
Much of the humour is provided by the supporting cast. Sophie Clay’s undeniable ability to create clear distinctions between four plus characters is commendable. Ed Yelland’s ability is similarly distinguished. While the play deals with the harrowing and prevalent issues of human nature it does not get tangled in a need to create reaction: this comes naturally. And though it may have an applaudable ability to convey a passionate message of acceptance, for what promises to be a bubbly musical experience, I am left wanting.
A Super Happy Story is playing the Vaults Theatre until Friday 3 May. For more information and tickets, see The Vaults website.