Billed as both musical theatre and performance art, the audience for Brigitte Aphrodite’s
My Beautiful Black Dog presents interesting images, insightful accounts, and no little humour.
Aphrodite, adorned in a bodysuit which is at once revealing and all-concealing, immediately leaves us in no doubt as to the veracity of what is to follow. This is not to be a dissection of mental health issues dreamt up from hearsay or third person account. We are prepared to delve into themes and scenes of desperate lows, pain and tribulations.
Episodic in structure and featuring projected scene titles, direct address, and overtly referenced theatricality, it would be reductive to define the piece as being in the Brechtian tradition. These elements undoubtedly combine to keep us firmly aware of our own positions as spectators and with licence to actively reflect upon our own natural responses to people who have endured similar trials to the performer. The names of the scenes, and much of the language employed in the verbose poetry of the song lyrics, feature words and slang of Aphrodite’s own creating and vernacular which are helpfully defined in a glossary handout and which tie the experiences presented as unique to the performer in spite of being shared by many others.
Beneath the rock-styled glittery shimmering of the stage, perhaps a nod to the masks worn by depression sufferers who feel unable to speak out, are accounts of such honesty that it is impossible to be unmoved. There are sequences of scenes which portray Aphrodite as a heightened version of herself in which we realise that the effects of living with a mental health condition go far beyond what many of us might previously have considered.
Notably, the most impactful episode of the piece is when it is felt as though the performer’s true self is for the first time free of added character, as she reads a letter written to her family. Set against the ordered chaos of the rest of the piece, this moment is the emotional climax in its quiet stillness. As musical theatre, the songs vary in their quality and it is sometimes felt that Aphrodite’s undoubtedly accomplished voice could do them more justice – however, her performance is understandably more greatly geared towards presenting various states of mind than in offering polished renditions.
My Beautiful Black Dog presents interesting images, insightful accounts, and no little humour. For people with direct experience of depression it will be compulsory viewing. For others it is worth seeing. Just don’t expect ‘a happy ever after’.