There’s surely no better sign that mental health issues – and depression in particular – are becoming more openly discussed than for the likes of Colin Hoult to come along and start taking the piss. Admittedly he does so through a particularly spectacular vehicle, the musical theatre performer Anna Mann, whose allegedly fulsome CV appears to be dominated by a succession of productions with preternaturally short runs –
Each of the characters is succinctly introduced and performed – the tightly wound-up PE teacher, the German documentary filmmaker who turns people’s anguish into comedy...
Mann is not herself immune to the “black dog” of depression – not least because she’s a woman over the age of 25 (ahem!) in a profession that increasingly focuses on the young. So, she tells us, she joined a therapy group; as is her way, though, she quickly took it over and subsequently decided to turn some of the other attendees’ life stories into a series of potentially educational sketches and vignettes. Here, though, there comes a necessary health warning: despite what it says on the thousand t-shirts she had printed up before arrival, Mann has to admit that this particular one-woman show (if you don’t count her two black leotard-wearing assistants, played by Tom Greaves and Andrew Bridge) won’t actually cure you of depression.
What follows is a succession of tightly-written character sketches, introduced with a costume change and some on-stage business – a dance perhaps, or some audience interaction. In hindsight, the show as a whole feels slightly jagged, stylistically speaking; in the moment, however, Hoult’s judgement is absolutely sound. Each of the characters is succinctly introduced and performed – the tightly wound-up PE teacher, the German documentary filmmaker who turns people’s anguish into comedy, and quite possibly the most cringe-inducing parody of a self-described 57 year-old white man looking for election to local government.
At the same time, Mann herself is never far from a cursory interaction with an audience member: whatever their answer to her question, her response of “Fuck off! I Love It!” is the catchphrase we all quickly learn to love. A Sketch Show For Depressives has no easy answers, and mocks the idea that exercise alone can make you feel better. On the plus side, though, both it and Mann in particular are sure to make you laugh.