In spite of the rising public awareness of male suicide, mental health is still an issue some men avoid discussing. The title of Daniel Hallissey’s hard-hitting show — In Shadow of the Black Dog — in some ways reflects this, the phrase a common allusion to depression. Yet, this solo performance, based on true events, does not cower away from the subject, instead choosing the confront the beast head on. Shattered by the news that his best friend has killed himself, Hallissey’s character, Alquist, details his attempts to put himself back together.
It takes a while for the audience to appreciate Hallissey’s sense of humour and style of storytelling. Early quips are missed, though that may be down to the fact the audience are still processing how many times the words ‘bum’ and ‘arse’ are used within the first 10 minutes (the show starts with him sitting on the toilet). As the story progresses, however, you feel more relaxed with Alquist as he opens up about his previous relationships and the resentment he feels towards his best friend for leaving him. It’s complimented by the slick sound and light design that smoothly transitions one scene to another.
The honesty behind Hallissey’s words is incredibly moving: his unassuming character allows the audience to empathise with him as he struggles to find his footing. Does he overshare? A little bit: the prostate/colon cancer scare that opens the show — while a real issue, of course — sets the wrong tone for the performance. The graphic sex scene recounted is also quite uncomfortable to listen to, so vivid it is in its detail. Nevertheless, there is something admirable to be found in his lack of censoring or self-editing. Unafraid to expose himself (not literally, though almost as he recalls a prostate exam), through In the Shadow of the Black Dog Hallissey encourages a conversation about mens’ mental health struggles and how isolating grief can be.
In spite of its choice opening, Hallissey’s play proves itself to be a raw piece of storytelling, with its narrator unafraid to admit his demons — and confront them.