Review: Grey, Ovalhouse

A show about a young black woman’s struggle with depression and misconception is understandably not a laugh a minute affair, but then again (at times) neither is life. Following on from her 5-star solo show White, Koko Brown‘s recent offering is complex, a heartbreaking look into mental illness and the nature of sadness.

This very personal, autobiographical show is slick and well put together. There is a nice rhythm of spoken word and although the twist within the happier sections can get a touch predictable pulling the rug out from the audience’s feet is a  good tactic to vary the show. It is a touch too long but only by a small margin and the content within is pretty streamlined, so we are engaged throughout.

The statement, presented in a 70s forcibly bright gameshow voice, that people of colour are far less likely to receive treatment for depression and therefore are far more likely to suffer for a longer period, hits hard on the crux of the show. Discussing and playing with the swarm of myths and plain cruelties that surround depression this is heavy going stuff. Deconstructing the many layers of a human, Grey provides a varied and complex look at an issue so often neglected. Thematically this show is burning with righteous frustration at the difficulty of being happy in the modern world.

Practically, too, Grey delivers with real skill. Brown’s ability with a loop pedal and creation of live complex songs and musical scores is outstanding. The set is versatile and the use of light, projection and little details are very impressive. Emily Harwood and Martha Godfrey must be commended for this. The mix of spoken word, song and monologue is refreshing and breaks up what could become a rather testing subject matter with ease. Brown is a powerhouse of talent and this piece showcases her perfectly.

A lovely touch which I feel really makes the show something special is the interaction between Brown’s constant talking/singing/rapping and Sapphire Joy’s silent use of sign language. Not only is this such an important point of inclusivity within the show, but the dynamic between the actors is magnetic to watch. Joy isn’t just translating the spoken words, but participates in the dialogue, expresses her own opinions and takes on the role of Brown’s sadness in a shockingly candid exploration of a person’s relationship to their emotions. Her ability to act through her body and face is an astonishing and lovely counter balance to the energy of Brown.

In a monologue close to the end of the show, Brown deconstructs the sentence I am a strong independent black woman, bringing up all the issues, contradictions and implications behind the statement. It’s a wonderful example of how this show clearly, cleverly and confidently explains an issue that everyone in the audience will have felt in some regards, sadness, but also explores a particular perspective within that struggle. The murmurs from the audience and the frankness of the show allow for an atmosphere of truth and partial healing which it feels a privilege to be a part of.

Grey played the Ovalhouse until 13 July. For more information, please see the Ovalhouse website.