The Back to Ours Festival aims to bring top quality arts experiences out to Hull’s furthest reaches and has brought an award-winning production to the heart of Wilberforce Sixth Form College, towards the East of the city. It’s filled the small studio theatre and, as we enter, Madeline MacMahon’s Sally greets each new audience member. From the moment we walk through the door, A Super Happy Story is immersive and inclusive. The stage is decked out in sequins and tinsel, Amy Jane Cook’s design setting the tone immediately. Jon Brittain’s play promises to be, exactly as its title would suggest, A Super Happy Story.
Silent Uproar have crafted a cabaret style musical that plays with form and genre to expertly handle its difficult subject matter. We follow Sally as she explains her journey with depression through scenes from her life and a variety of upbeat numbers. The combination of Brittain’s wit and Matthew Floyd Jones’s catchy score, elevates the dark subject matter. All clichés about mental health are bypassed. What has been achieved is unprecedented. A Super Happy Story presents the depth of Sally’s depression in a way that is original, poignant and funny. Every time the events unfolding onstage become difficult to watch, the tension is expertly but sensitively released. The effect is that we, as an audience, can confront the story and its themes head on, without feeling they overpower us.
It is not only the writing that sells the production though, the cast give a set of impressive performances. MacMahon carries Sally, and through her the whole show, with energy and dexterity. She invites us into her world, with all it’s high and low points, and makes us a part of her story. Every beat, both comic and dramatic, is hit with relish in this truly moving performance.
Forming the show’s ensemble are Sophie Clay and Ed Yelland who both effortlessly skip through an array of characters. They frame Sally’s story by providing her a community. It would have been very easy to stage this story as a one woman show, in which Sally stands alone and skips between songs and monologues. However, this would have placed Sally in isolation, without giving her friends and family real presences. Clay and Yelland give brilliant performances that provide an emotional context for Sally’s experience, often mirroring the awkwardness that I am sure many people in the audience have had when interacting with the issue of mental health.
Already these things would suggest a winning formula, and the synthesis of them all should probably be credited to Alex Mitchell’s staging. The cabaret format was employed beautifully. The cast roll around on black crates that seem straight out of the actors’ dressing room, curtains come tearing down to indicate scene changes and the delicately structured plot is only assisted by light touches in the blocking. Mitchell is not afraid to lean into the cheesier elements of the show, he knows there is nothing wrong with a good box step or a handful of confetti. All of this provides the show with so much joy and vigour.
A Super Happy Story is a tough watch in places but is a brilliant and entertaining deconstruction of one woman’s experience with depression. It is one of the few theatrical works that has brought me to tears and the only one to do so not five seconds from making me laugh. Shows about mental health should always come with this much glitter.
A Super Happy Story (About Being Really Sad) is playing multiple venues across the UK until 14 November. For more information and tickets, visit the Silent Uproar Productions website.