Note: This review is from the 2018 Fringe

The quest to find the secret of happiness is as old as the hills, and in Live Before You Die, Byron Vincent and Dave McGinn have approached the search from a 21st century perspective (and with arts funding).

Vincent lives with bipolar disorder and is matter of fact about his several unsuccessful suicide attempts and frequent hospitalisation. He doesn’t try to glamorize mental illness nor seek audience sympathy, admitting that “My behaviour would test the patience of a monk” There is no monk, nor saint available, but best mate McGinn, a cuddly bear of a man, is the next best thing. Together they chart their journey of discovery which takes them from the west coast of America to the labs of Oxford University.

The pair adopt a pseudo-scientific approach. We see video vignettes of American happiness experts, which are followed by a screen shot of a failed MRI scan and a rather disturbing film of a lab rat.  As the hour progresses, the action becomes ever more surreal, with Vincent appearing on stage, first dressed as said lab rat, and then sporting a helmet bedecked with two egg cups….. Why?  The linkages are tenuous and become increasingly haphazard, as the project seems to lose momentum and focus.  Or perhaps this is a metaphor for the chaos of the bipolar condition? A discussion of the Socratic theory of happiness takes the narrative back onto more well-trodden territory, but by this stage the audience is likely to be somewhat bemused.

The script of this show is highly articulate and the humour, especially from Vincent, sardonic. They are good foils for one another with their distinctive delivery style: fast and somewhat nervy vs affable and chilled out. A bungee-jumping, musical finale illustrates the moral of the tale (friends get you through the tough times), as we learn of Vincent’s current positive mental state. The overall premise of the show is sound, but this worthy and gutsy project falls somewhat short of its mark.