One of the main advantages of Fringe theatre is the element of difference. Not having to comply with mainstream preferences, new combinations can be created without as much of a risk for investors or venues. Interestingly, this does mean that you sometimes see a few Fringe shows exploring similar borderline “non mainstream” topics – in this case depression. A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) is a musical about Sally, a girl we meet at sixteen and follow through the next ten years of her life and her journey with mental illness.
Madeleine MacMahon plays Sally and narrates the story well, keeping the audience on side even in the more tragic, depressing, and distressing parts. Sophie Clay and Ed Yelland play the remaining parts, multi-rolling with ease and creating an atmosphere on stage which feels fuller than the just three people there. Musical accompaniment comes from Matthew Floyd Jones from Frisky and Mannish. Again, the music fills the stage, complementing the impressive backdrop staging to make the performance feel nicely slick and efficient.
While billing itself as a super happy story, A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) doesn’t shy away from the dark realities of depression. Through framing the performance in this way, while looking at how depression can truly damage, A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) reveals to the audience that even when everything on paper might be going right, illness can bring you right back down. As Sally says: “depression doesn’t care”.
Although it might sound unusual, if you do have a history of mental illness I would strongly recommend thinking about whether this would be a suitable show for you to watch, as there are some content warnings I would give to the production. There is an extended monologue towards the end where Sally attempts to kill herself, and she talks in very specific and graphic detail about her process. Talking About Suicide, an organisation dedicated to improving the way reporters handle the discussion of taking one’s own ife, explicitly warns against talking in specific and graphic detail about how someone went about committing suicide, and such a description features prominently in A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad).
The danger is that it can be processed and used by someone vulnerable, and while I am sure A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) in no way intended to put anyone in a risky position, I know that there are people I would actively tell to consider if this would be ok for them to watch. If there is such a risk from simply reporting, surely this should also be honoured when you are stuck in a room, unable to not hear the words being spoken and actions being portrayed during a performance? This seems, therefore, to be a musical for those with the privilege of being currently in an ok-to-good-place mentally, ironically alienating those with the condition the musical is written about – at least at it’s loudest.
That being said, it is also a very enjoyable musical and it certainly packs an emotional punch. The songs are fun and fast, and the different characters pop in and out of the frame while Sally remains constant keeps us moving through her life with her in the spotlight. While it may not (in reality) be a super happy story about feeling super sad, it is a happy story about the realities of this character’s depression, which I think is probably more important.
A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) is showing at Pleasance Courtyard as part of the Edinburgh Fringe until the 28th of August. For more information and tickets see here.