In an hour that mixes spoken word and storytelling, Zöe Murtagh explores the symptoms and stigmas faced by anxiety sufferers in a show co-written with Victoria Copeland. Murtagh has a talent for visualising aspects of her condition that both move and inform, in a show that wrings entertainment from a very serious subject but sometimes bewilders with its range of styles and tones.
Sacré Blue is an undoubted success. It’s just that sometimes cramming so much in doesn’t give ample space to fully appreciate all of Murtagh and Copeland’s many talents.
Don’t expect Murtagh to remain behind a microphone to perform her pieces; she can be seen rolling across the stage and dancing to punk music in-between her poems and stories with an almost manic air. There is a nervy energy to the show in both Murtagh’s physicality and delivery, as if constantly poised on the edge of panic. The ability of her performance to show rather than just tell about anxiety is a clear strong point – a piece, in which she frantically reads cards listing all of her anxieties, before flinging them across the stage, cannot fail to prompt a gut emotional reaction.
It’s quite hard to put my finger on exactly what kind of show this is. When Murtagh is sticking signs, detailing the symptoms of a panic attack, across her body, or taking the audience through an analogy of how cognitive behavioural therapy works, it feels very much like an unusually inventive TED talk. At other times, Murtagh disappears into her performance art, whether this is turning a NHS pamphlet about dealing with anxiety into poetry, or narrating short and wistful romantic stories that could have been lifted straight from Amélie. Occasionally the two styles of performance don’t mix too well – her conversational asides to the audience during her opening poem feel a little heavy-handed.
Some of the highlights of the show were the more obviously poetic spoken word pieces, and I only wished there had been time for a few more. Murtagh has a gift for short phrases that get to the heart of her condition, whether explaining that asking someone to calm down after a panic attack is like asking “a diabetic to produce their own insulin,” or the simple and brutal admission that “it’s hard when you think this is the happiest you’re ever going to be.” This style of delivery often suited Murtagh better than the more anecdotal approach she sometimes took, such as a long-winded section describing the parallels between David Bowie’s Labyrinth and anxiety, which perhaps wasn’t worth the time it took to explain.
Although part of the show’s appeal was that it was fun and creative despite its description of such a difficult condition, sometimes it felt that there was a little too much going on, as if Murtagh and Copeland had too many ideas to squeeze into an hour. Audience members will undoubtedly leave the show with a much clearer picture of anxiety and a renewed empathy for friends and family with the condition, and in this respect Sacré Blue is an undoubted success. It’s just that sometimes cramming so much in doesn’t give ample space to fully appreciate all of Murtagh and Copeland’s many talents.