When theatre maker Bryony Kimmings met her now fiancé, it is unlikely she ever thought they would appear on stage together. Working in advertising, Tim Grayburn doesn’t have a performance background. But when Kimmings discovered her betrothed was hiding his clinical depression from her, and everyone else, she reacted in the way most natural to her. She made it into a show.
At first it’s a little difficult to get into Kimmings’ performative therapy. The structure seems too much like a series of hotchpotch ideas squished together like a bad sketch show. But as the play progresses and the through line strengthens, the episodic vignettes mimic the gradual steps the couple take to manage Grayburn’s stages of depression: diagnosis, denial, medication, lowering the dosage, breakdown, continued management.
Scenes are interspersed by audio of the pair frankly discussing Grayburn’s condition and the genuine emotion in their voices creates some incredibly moving moments. But these pensive parts are well balanced against quirky songs and bizarre costumes, preventing the play becoming too heavy and making its serious topic accessible and easier to digest.
While at its heart a love story (something she freely admits), Kimmings and Nina Steiger incorporate clever stagecraft to give the more anecdotal elements some drama. Their shared personal experiences illustrate how depression is understood by sufferers and non-sufferers alike, playfully but powerfully challenging the stigmas attached to mental health – particularly the non-macho perception Grayburn struggled to avoid.
What’s most affecting however, is Kimmings’ obvious and unwavering love for Grayburn, a sentiment returned through his willingness to participate in such an intimate and revealing piece – especially for someone not all that comfortable with being on stage. For a show about mental health, this is a true labour of love, and although Kimmings’ focus settled on depression because of her association with Grayburn, it doesn’t detract from the tender and potent impact it has.