I’m stepping out of my self-imposed boundaries today. Today’s play wasn’t read; I saw it in performance last night. And it’s not a traditional play: it’s a cabaret show. So, why am I including it? Because it made me think (a lot) and I want to share some of those thoughts with you.
Mind Games is a cabaret about mental health: a hard sell, as the writer/performer/subject admits. The idea of a show about depression is kind of, well, depressing. But the amount of humour and the lack of self pity make this show anything but a downer. In fact it’s very funny.
Jo Loth is a fabulous performer: her presence is commanding and her vocal range is stunning. She’s also incredibly brave, sharing something as intimate and potentially damaging as her personal battle with depression.
What stops the show being overly confessional is the pizzazz of the performance and the integration of other women’s stories. Jo leaps from persona to persona as she tells stories and showcases her vocal skills with a repertoire of songs she’s written herself ranging from country, to blues, to jazz, to rap, to metal and even a bit of opera.
She steps from being ‘Jo’, to being Jolene (pronounced Jo-lay-na) Mindtrick: the rhyming with Marelene Dietrich is deliberate as Jolene is every inch the German bombshell. She’s sassy, tough and lacks any sense of compassion. “Pull yourself together” seems to be her personal motto and she is the outward expression of all the negative self-talk many of us are plagued by.
Mind Games is funny, irreverent, honest and moving. It also surprises with its facts about depression. Did you know that one in four Australians suffers from ‘The Black Dog’? And why is it called ‘The Black Dog’? This last question makes for the funniest skit in the piece where Jo riffs on the idea that whoever invented the term ‘black dog’ must have been a dog-hater. She crouches down to an imaginary puppy and coos to it in the tones of any dog lover, “Hello you little fluff ball. Every time I see you I want to kill myself. You make me feel like shit.” (These words aren’t a quote, they’re my memory of the scene.) The “what a cute, little puppy” tone of voice juxtaposed with the meaning of the words was hilarious and powerful.
I came away from Mind Games thinking about my own relationship with depression. I have never considered myself ‘depressed’, yet I recognised myself in almost every scenario:
- The manic, superwoman trying to achieve everything all at once? Tick.
- The sleepless nights filled with anxiety? Tick.
- The curling up in a ball weeping for no apparent reason? Not anymore, but I’ll give it a tick for previously.
- The self-doubting paralysis? Absolutely.
- Suicidal ideation? Long ago, thankfully.
Feeling as if there might be a label I can attach to myself is uncomfortable, but also liberating. Mind Games showed me that what I thought of as my own unique failings are incredibly common (one in four Australians). I’m grateful that I have my own inner-Marlene who kicks me out of bed and makes me keep trying when I want to give up, but I also know I can call out for help if it gets too much. Speaking of which, here’s the contact for Lifeline if you’re reading this and think you could do with some help. Or have a look at the resources at the Black Dog Institute.
Mind Games plays at Metro Arts until 22 October, 2011. It was written by Jo Loth, directed by Sandro Colarelli with instrumental music arrangements and performance by Wade Gregory. See it if you can.