Every year the Edinburgh Fringe has a few shows exploring mental health, but the topic seems particularly prominent this year. At the Fringe’s programme launch last week, mental health was identified as one of eight key themes at this year’s festival, and the Wellcome Trust will also be in residence in August, seeking out ‘the sick of the Fringe’ for a two day mini-festival at the end of the month.
What does this tell us about changing attitudes towards discussing mental health issues? We won’t know until we’ve seen the shows, but here are ten you may want to look out for…
1. Fake It Till You Make It
Bryony Kimmings is well known for tackling intensely personal subjects head on. Her 2010 Fringe show Sex Idiot was a trawl through her past sexual relationships inspired by the discovery that she had contracted chlamydia. After that came Seven Day Drunk, a show about art and alcoholism created during a scientifically monitored week-long drinking binge, and Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model, in which she created a pop star specifically for her niece. This year’s show is a collaboration with her partner Tim, who has severe depression. It is, she says, “about the wonders of the human brain, being in love and what it takes to be a real man”.
2. My Beautiful Black Dog
Winston Churchill famously described his depression as a “black dog”. Theatre performer Brigitte Aphrodite has gone one step further and given her black dog a name – Creshendorius. Find out more in her “poetically wild musical exploring the beauteous complexity of our fragile minds”, a bold attempt to create a joyous, uplifting portrayal of a condition serious enough that she’s only performing it for a week for the sake of her health. Includes “infectious dance moves, swagger-boss costumes and banging tunes”. We look forward to it.
3. The Sick of the Fringe
Commissioned by the Wellcome Trust and created by artist Brian Lobel, currently working as the Trust’s public engagement fellow, this two day mini-festival on 27 and 28 August brings together scientists, doctors and performers to discuss “major issues in research, medicine and the human condition”. Keynote speakers include neuroscientist Sir Colin Blakemore and disability rights activist Liz Carr. In the run up to the main event, the Trust will host a series of ‘open meetings’ at Summerhall and Forest Fringe to explore “radical ideas for medicine and performance” and find performers to add to the festival programme. Speakers at the open meetings include Bryony Kimmings and Simon McBurney, who’s at the International Festival with a new solo show.
4. Felicity Ward: What if there is no toilet?
In this candid new show, the award-winning Australian comic takes on the subject of her irritable bowel syndrome and the intense anxiety this causes, as she obsesses over the exact location of toilets in every place she visits.
5. Michael J Dolan: Misery Guts
“Stand-up comedy for people who are too tired to get angry” is the sales pitch for this new show by the depressive Dolan. His style may be a little too caustic and cynical for some - in which case there are plenty of other comedians at the Fringe who will be talking about their battles with depression, such as Alastair Clark, Carl Donnelly, Katharine Ferns and Omar Hamdi – but Dolan is very good at what he does.
6. The Clinic: An Afternoon of Serious Comedy
The Scottish charity Universal Comedy uses workshops in stand-up comedy to help people through with physical or mental ill health problems. On 18 August at the Gilded Balloon you can see the results, as workshop participants show off their skills.
7. Every Brilliant Thing
Duncan Macmillan’s play about living with depression was a hit at last year’s Fringe and makes a welcome return this year. It’s a surprisingly uplifting experience, helped along by a terrific solo performance by Jonny Donahoe and some audience interaction – you may be asked to play one of the characters in the narrator’s life as he grows from boyhood to manhood, coping with his mother’s suicide attempt along the way. The Guardian called it “possibly one of the funniest plays you will ever see”, which is quite an endorsement.
8. Le Gateau Chocolat: Black
With his booming baritone voice, the beautiful drag star Le Gateau Chocolat is as at home in opera houses as he is in cabaret tents at Fringe festivals, and is as comfortable singing Wagner as he is Whitney Houston. But such stage confidence, of course, does not mean inner peace, and the Nigerian singer is another performer who has battled depression – a story he tells in this very personal show.
9. Back to Blackbrick
Numerous shows this year tackle the subject of dementia and the care system, in various different ways, such as Spillikin – A Love Story at the Pleasance, Camera Obscura – A Way of Seeing, at C Venues, Tomorrow at the Traverse, and Bedsocks and Secrets, at Spotlites. But this show in particular looks promising; Patch of Blue, the company behind Hush and The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee, return with another show for young audiences. Back to Blackbrick is an adaptation of Sarah Moore Fitzgerald’s acclaimed novel, which tells the story of a child trying to understand a grandparent’s struggle with Alzheimer’s – with the help of bit of time travel.
10. Nijinksy’s Last Jump
The legendary Russian ballet dancer and choreographer, Vaslav Nijinsky, was famous for his gravity-defying jumps. He is also famous for the sad way his career ended – with a diagnosis of schizophrenia in 1919, followed by three decades in and out of institutions. He never danced in public again. In this new show choreographed by Kally Lloyd –Jones of Company Chordelia, the young and the old Nijinsky come face to face.
You can view the full Fringe programme here.