In a month where a quick perusal of the bursting Fringe catalogue can bring on the urge to rock slowly back and forth in a darkened room, Juliette Burton returns with a new show to remind us that there are actually bigger decisions to be made than show selection.
Burton has a huge life choice to make, and she wants the audience’s help to make it. To do this, she’s looking back at her life and every important decision she has made up to the present. She presents this as an hour of docu-comedy, complete with a nicely-compiled montage of videos, diagrams and photos.
Unlike her last show Look at Me, Decision Time isn’t ostensibly about Burton’s struggles with various manifestations of mental illness. However, that spectre lurks behind every facet of her life, and it’s plain to see how she channels this into her enthusiastic, gesticulative delivery. Her words tumble from her in a breathless rush, and it’s very easy to instantly take to her. She does a tremendous job of getting across the impact of her illness in a way sure to resonate with many sufferers.
An increasingly visible advocate for mental health awareness, Burton has researched Decision Time with charities Mind and ReThink. This is a show that has clearly been designed to reach and affect the widest possible audience. It is certainly a lovingly crafted and accessible way of looking at this incredibly important subject as a microcosm, and this is both its biggest strength and weakness.
While it is fantastic that a show that challenges the still-prevalent stigma regarding mental illness in all its forms is reaching a wide audience, it does feel that it has had its edges blunted in the desire for a wider reach. Even the passage detailing Burton’s lowest possible ebb is diffused with a jaunty gag that strips it of some of its power. A cynical view would be that Burton is becoming the acceptable, attractive face of mental illness in the media, who wouldn’t be comfortable with the unpredictable, anarchic likes of Seymour Mace and Richard Gadd, who both tackle similar themes.
Having said that, one can hardly criticise Juliette Burton for the state of media coverage of the subject, particularly when vital services are being strip-mined in the name of austerity with nary a shrug from traditional print outlets. A strong voice is needed more than ever, and she certainly has that. Her show is bright, breezy and consistently amusing, packed with lovely anecdotes about her relationship and littered with some good old-fashioned innuendos. It would be nice to have more bite, but it’s impossible to criticise too strongly when she is reaching the healthy audiences the show was written to attract.