The title One Under makes this performance sound bleaker then it is. I was expecting a one-women monologue about the trauma of her father committing suicide. But instead I got an interactive, fun workshop/performance on mental health. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised.
Attending one of the many productions happening within The Vaults is like walking into a creative buffet. As the audience entered for One Under, Amy Fleming greeted us and chatted with the audience as the usher on the door made sure we all sat in one clump. I thought this was typical of a fringe production, that the actor doesn’t want the space to feel too big and is trying to win the audience over. But this was naive of me to think as in retrospect it was this clumping and breaking of the fourth wall that allowed people to feel anything was allowed and encouraged mob mentality, in a sense. Once one person participated, they all did.
Fleming is approachable, honest and encouraging. In her big pink flamingo sunglasses, she welcomes you and immediately allows for there to be no judgement in the room. She’s a subtle and thoughtful actress whose clear emotional attachment to the material and honesty about her past engages an audience on a personal and intellectual level.
Fleming starts by talking about herself as a child in the third person: “this is Amy”. She questions the audience on whether imagery friends are “mental”, and asks if anyone in the audience had imaginary friends growing up. It’s at this point that the next 60 minutes could either be really painful or really playful. Luckily, or because of the welcoming feel of the production, people felt happy to chip in. From then on the production was filled with debate and people shouting out. It was electric at times but in no way argumentative.
In One Under you also take part in a game show on mental health. The gentleman who participated had to make it from one side of the light-up board to the other. He was rewarded with moving forward for every honest answer on important mental health decisions. In particular, on when is the right time to tell someone you’re actually not feeling ‘fine’? This element of the show was amusing and entertaining.
One of the most intriguing themes from One Under is about what we inherit from our parents? Fleming states that “your DNA is not your destiny”. She also successfully mixes scientific facts with questions about what makes a person “mental” – for example, how the brain learns the easier paths as we get older and lets go of the rest. So in theory, we can physically change our brain and make new paths, for example for positivity. By repeatedly using the more positive thoughts, this will make those brain connections stronger each day. The whole feel of One Under felt like an fascinating social experiment.
I came away with the overwhelming urge to talk to someone about how they are. I also felt guilty that I hadn’t really had a proper conversation about mine or anyone’s else’s mental health in a long time. I suspect the majority of the audience felt the same. This is why performances like One Under are crucial and warmly welcome at any arts festival.
One Under is playing at The Vaults as part of the Vault Festival until 21 February. For tickets and more information, see the Vaults Festival website.