Theatre review: A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad)

Emotional highs and lows are centre stage John Brittain's play about how depression can strike. Picture: The Other Richard
Emotional highs and lows are centre stage John Brittain's play about how depression can strike. Picture: The Other Richard
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Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Just when it looked like Duncan Macmillan’s Every Brilliant Thing had cornered the market for feelgood comedies about depression, along comes this delicious show written by Jon Brittain for Silent Uproar that suggests the 2014 hit has kicked off a whole sub-genre.

Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)

****

If those that follow are as good as A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad), there will be no cause for complaint.

Knowing how averse we are to negative emotions, director Alex Mitchell goes out of his way to make things cheery. Even before we’re in our seats, the superb Madeleine MacMahon is charming us with her upbeat patter – praising someone’s shoes here, admiring someone’s hair there, congratulating a row simply for filling up. She has the relentless good humour of a quiz show host and a sharp-thinking wit to match.

She is the life and soul of the party, but for all the laughter and merriment, it’s a party we know is going to crash. We’ve all seen the name of the play. And what A Super Happy Story captures quite brilliantly is the way depression strikes regardless of how happy the circumstances, how perfect the moment, how well things are going.

Telling the first-person story of the teenage Sally, faking her ID to get into a gig and having the time of her life with her best friends, MacMahon takes us from the heady heights of euphoria to the inexplicable depths of an illness that goes beyond mere cause and effect.

Lest any of this get too maudlin, there’s an excellent set of cabaret songs by Matthew Floyd Jones of Frisky and Mannish fame, punchily performed by MacMahon with co-stars Sophie Clay and Ed Yelland. Yet for all the frivolity, Brittain’s play never shies away from the seriousness of its subject matter, pulling the rug from under its own fairy-tale ending to create a drama of rich extremes.

Until 28 August. Today 2:20pm.