Theatre: Review: HELP!, Wardrobe Theatre
It takes a brave woman to stand in front of a room full of strangers in a skin-coloured leotard. It takes an even braver woman (and one with a bloody good sense of humour) to wear a leotard and confess that she needs help. Because, well, that makes you look like you do.
And that’s the whole point to Bristol performer Viki Browne’s bizarre, touching and engaging one-woman show.
The short performance starts with Browne alone on the small Wardrobe Theatre stage, skulking in the shadows before finally losing her shit enough to wander into the light, her grasp having slipped on the ingrained social etiquette that makes it easy to hide when you’ve got a problem with depression. Centre stage is a projected screen of white noise and flashing coloured lights that make it hard to concentrate, leaving you just wanting to lie down.
Browne explains that she has fallen to pieces, and that neither she, nor anyone else really knows how to put those pieces back together. She admits that something is wrong, and that it isn’t a crime to need help. If only she had the courage to ask…
Cue The Beatles, on a loop: Help me if you can I’m feeling down/Help me get my feet back on the ground/Won’t you please, please help me? She holds the lyrics up on cards. The card that eventually spurs action is ‘This isn’t just a wanky metaphor, Help me’ – a bold move from someone who clearly has faith in people.
Someone does indeed help. After a random audience member has got Browne to her feet, she tells us she has a box, in which all the shattered pieces of her life are gathered. We’re encouraged to step up and work together to rebuild her. The previously silent, detached audience dresses her in fairy lights, sequins and silver. She emerges (after the Fab Four have sung the words she found so hard to say) a shining, glittering, reconstructed person.
It all sounds a little oversimplified, but the point Browne makes about acknowledging and addressing depression is a valid one. It’s hard to ask for help. The other difficult point she makes so simple is this: a real mental breakdown can’t be fixed with sequins and tinsel. During the following Q&A with four local mental health charities, Browne facilitates some serious discussion, mocked by her fairy lights and glitter.
It’s a unique, funny and engaging way to point out that there often isn’t a magic ‘I’m all good now’ end to a mental problem. Even when you’ve sought help, you can still feel like someone fielding awkward questions while trying to parry the truth with cheap tinsel and a fake smile.
Judging from the touching, honest and empathetic questions the audience put forward, it’s not just Viki Browne that needs help. And if one woman in a leotard can bring attention to that big silver elephant in the room, fair play.