Mental health

A bumpy but engaging ride

Victoria Tischler reviews 'The Musical Mental Health Cabaret', Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester, 18 June 2016. Image: Matt Cawrey.

20 June 2016

Priya Mistry enters the compact auditorium, shiny, glittery and colourful. It seems at first we might have fun as she and the set are dressed up as if to party, complete with mirror balls, music, and confetti. Then, approaching the audience, in a quavering voice she introduces herself and enquires how we are feeling. Several individuals are asked to rate how they are ‘on a scale of 1 to 10’ as if a doctor or researcher is seeking information about symptoms of mental illness. She tells us the show is about her, and about depression and anxiety, and asks us to ‘take care of each other’. The party is soon over as we find that the show focuses on the suicidal end of the depressive spectrum.

Mistry’s work comes from a deeply personal space. Her voice, disembodied, is broadcast from a speaker as she dances, parades, and simulates copulation; her efforts to overcome anhedonia ultimately futile. Her headpiece changes from a Brazilian carnival-style headpiece to a large silver cloud that fits over her head like a helmet. Her voice is amplified loud and clear, sharing her thoughts on suicide methods e.g. gun - I’ve never handled one but it would be quick; jumping from a cliff - impractical as she’s afraid of heights; drowning, followed by a shark attack - no one would find her remains. The suicidal ideation is persistent, her thoughts are coolly considered and rational, her only concern is for those who might find her dead body. When no day is enjoyable and there is no enjoyment on the horizon, suicide seems a logical decision. The darkness is lightened by Mistry, a talented dancer, choreographer and singer. Highlights include ‘The Wheel of Misfortune’ where prizes include ‘two weeks of sleepless nights’ and ‘a lifetime of crippling self-doubt’. ‘C’mon’, she encourages the contestants, ‘You’ve got everything to lose’. We laughed, bleakly.

I empathised with her, particularly in a scene at her mirror when her negative self-talk, loudly states: ‘Are you having a wobble, a cry? Why did you wear that? It doesn’t look good. Neither does the other outfit. Why don’t you just leave now? This is terrible. Mistry regains her composure and sings mournfully ‘its all in your head, its all in my head’. A large black circle, representing depression, is an omnipotent presence, Mistry noting it getting bigger, even though it doesn’t seem to eat, and begging it to leave as it ruins everything. Of course, it ignores her and appears to swallow her up wherever she goes. A simple device, effectively portrayed.

Mistry’s is a likeable and talented performer. Her work leaves a mark and is sure to evolve as she refines what is the first outing of this material.

For more information follow @whatsthebigmist on Twitter.  

Victoria Tischler is Freelance Research Consultant/Chartered Psychologist and Honorary Associate Professor, University of Nottingham.