Discussions around mental health are gradually becoming less taboo, thanks to charities such as Mind and Together, but another huge force helping shift the conversation is the arts. Nevertheless, keeping the subject matter as light and as entertaining as possible can be a challenge. Thankfully, Silent Uproar’s A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) achieves this with ease.
We are introduced to Sally (Madeleine MacMahon), who opens with a song informing us that this is a fun story (but with a sprinkling of depression). Immediately, the craftily written songs by Matthew Floyd Jones and slick direction by Alex Mitchell keep the audience in safe hands. So often with musical plays, songs can feel like a laborious “tag on”, but this is not the case with A Super Happy Story. Each song seamlessly elaborates on a point in Sally’s life, and is performed with confidence and skill by MacMahon (her voice in particular is spectacular), and her multi-roling entourage, Sophie Clay and Ed Yellend.
MacMahon’s Sally is quippy and sure of herself, she receives raucous laughter as she describes weedy, allergy-prone Toby, whom she is forced to hang out with as a child: “He was a mix between the cowardly lion from The Wizard of Oz, and Ed Miliband.” It’s hard to believe that this funny and energetic character could suffer from depression, but that is exactly the point Jon Brittain’s play touches upon so eloquently.
Tone changes are dealt with artfully; at one point it’s all-singing and all-dancing fun when Sally fights off her depression, until it suddenly creeps back in again in the form of her forced smile – unable to shake it off, but struggling to reach out for help.
Clay and Yellend transition effortlessly into friends, family members and support group members, all influencing Sally’s journey as she goes. Clay excels in her sales manager role of Karen, speaking in a slow and sarcastic northern drawl. Meanwhile, Yellend’s portrayal of Toby is especially tender, particularly when he gifts Sally a plush Winnie the Pooh toy to accompany his previous words to her many years prior: “You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) is an endearing, funny and relatable education into depression, without ever feeling preachy or patronising. Go for a good time and a mental health awakening.