A topical and popular theme for this year’s Fringe – mental health – is explored and fleshed out in this beautiful, bittersweet tale of two childhood friends that battle to fight one of the pair’s inner demons. Whilst the execution wasn’t perfect in this dance and musical performance, there were plenty of standout moments that made up for it in this fragile and touching portrayal of the chaotic impact of mental illness.
This poignant and bittersweet tale truly encapsulates the devastating consequences of mental health problems on a friendship and how fragile, lost and lonely it can make someone feel.
A Tale of Two is an original work from Oliver Wood and performed by the Central Hall Musical Society from York. It is a trip down memory lane for two childhood friends; they see each other, years after they’ve lost touch, and reminisce on their carefree childhood days playing games and letting their imaginations run wild. The performance opens with a number about the vivid imaginary games they played when they were younger. The two younger friends (George Doughty and Megan Davies) play together and talk about different worlds and realities they could explore. The original score is beautiful, capturing the playfulness and innocence of childhood, but unfortunately the two voices don't seem to blend well together, which meant the show opened on a weak note. However, as the musical progressed, there were definitely stronger performances – particularly from the male cast members.
As we explore their friendship, we are introduced to our male character’s mental illness and depression which whisks him away from his happy childhood and provides a barrier to his friendship with the female character. His mental health problems are personified by three darker characters, (Sam Gilliatt, Rachel Higgs, Tara Geraghty) whose movements and vocals effectively portrayed the menacing effects of mental health problems. The three moved with power, strength and control and helped to recover the show from a shaky start.
These depressive characters follow our male lead into his older life, but are more controlled than before; we see how our two friends, older and wiser, are able to look back on their childhood with a mixture of regret, sadness and understanding. The two older characters (Ben Kawalec and Emma Wright) have a lot more chemistry than our younger duo, and their opening duet is the stand-out number in the whole performance. Some of Wright’s notes are out-right spell-binding, and the pair’s vocals blended harmoniously and I felt a real sense of longing and connection between the two.
The choreography and movement throughout was sweet, creative and captured everything perfectly - from imaginary sword fights and pirate ships to how crushing and suffocating depression can be. At times, the execution wasn’t quite perfect and the dancing seemed a bit messy or out of sync, but overall the energy in the performance was good and the quality of all three key aspects in a musical – dancing, acting and singing – was consistently great. The music was provided by a sole talented pianist, Matthew Spalding. This simple accompaniment was perfect for the mood and theme of the production.
This poignant and bittersweet tale truly encapsulates the devastating consequences of mental health problems on a friendship and how fragile, lost and lonely it can make someone feel. This original musical is a beautiful glimpse into a darker reality for so many individuals and will stay with you well after its end.