Theatre Review: All of Me, Summerhall, Edinburgh

All of Me expresses an anorexic's battle to regain mental health. Picture: Contributed
All of Me expresses an anorexic's battle to regain mental health. Picture: Contributed
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In 2012, Caroline Horton brought her award-winning play, Mess, to the Fringe telling the (lightly fictionalised) story of her battle with anorexia, and ending with an uplifting celebration of her near-recovery and the messiness of life.

All of Me, Summerhall, Edinburgh * * * *

In All Of Me, reunited with Alex Swift, who directed Mess, an older, wiser Horton (who has since built a successful career as a playwright and performer) asks: what happens when the story doesn’t end like that? When it doesn’t end at all? When the battle for one’s mental health goes on through an endless succession of highs and lows? What kind of theatre would express that?

It can’t be a linear narrative. But it might be something like this play, a sequence of vivid scenes which leave images imprinted on the mind. Ironically, some of the most powerful are not those made visually through dramatic costumes but simply through her powerful writing: the depressed woman like a lizard-like creature crawling on her belly over glass; the closing vision of the gods at a party.

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The world she creates is at times vast and mythic, full of big stories and poetic language and almost operative in its use of song. At other times, is it deeply mundane: being depressed means lying under the kitchen table refusing to shower; being depressed smells like armpits. Horton is a consummate performer, apologising unapologetically and holding the audience rapt with a single withering look.

Is the protagonist Horton herself? She could be criticised either way: if it’s her, she’s being self-indulgent; if it isn’t, she’s misleading her audience.

What is unquestionable, and actually more important, is the sincerity of her determination to say something about the nature of mental illness, and being unafraid to bend the conventions of narrative if necessary along the way.

Until 25 August

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