Theatre: “All of Me” – Harlow Playhouse – a review by Ian Beckett

Entertainment / Sun 1st May 2022 am31 07:44am

“All of Me” – Harlow Playhouse – a review by Ian Beckett

“All of Me” written and performed by Caroline Horton at Harlow Playhouse, 29th April 2022, was by her own admission “quite a dark show” about depression and death.

The canvas laid out in the Theatre 2 studio was, in and of itself, a visualisation of a cluttered, chaotic mind. Scaffolding and strewn clothing, audio-visual equipment and angle-poise lamps, and sandbags hanging from the rafters which for some reason I mistook for pigs’ heads at first glance – an easy mistake maybe, in a show where what is in the shadows is seldom simply what it seems.

Caroline Horton’s onstage persona had a wide-eyed expression and a delivery that, whilst often mono in tone, was never monotonous without a point. It is a persona that many people will be familiar with, either from supporting friends and family, or staring back at themselves in the mirror.

Caroline began with a non-apology of sorts for the performance that was about to unfold, and seamlessly apologised also for the latecomers, taking their seats two minutes into the show: “It’s okay” she says, “I can start again” and as if it were rehearsed that way, proceeds to precisely do that!

At no point is “All of Me” played for laughs, but from the get-go Caroline draws empathy from the audience that allows us to laugh with her at things familiar, disturbing and at times distressing.

“Shall we go to the beach?” is an invitation that elicits an enthusiastic response from one audience member, as Caroline begins to create the first of several real-time soundscapes, which transform both mood and location as effectively as any slick scene change.

Caroline’s mental health decline acquires a mythical narrative as she finds herself spiralling down into a dark abyss, aided and abetted by music and alcohol, dance and drugs, until she eventually has a near encounter with Death himself. In the latter part of the show she wears a top with the word Death emblazoned on it, a kind of two finger salute that says “Been there, done that, got the T-shirt!”. It suggests victory to me.

Caroline declares with an honesty that some might find brutal: “I understand suicide. We can all understand suicide despite our reticence. Suicide – an understandable confession that life’s too much – an understandable confession that it’s not worth the trouble.” Bleak, stark, but this is also a survivor’s affirmation drawn from the knowledge that “inside the hopelessness of the void” there is hope.

“All of Me” has the subtitle “the possibility of future splendour” and that also cries out hope despite the appalling dearth of resources to respond to the needs of people who experience mental ill-health.
More needs to be done bring this kind of work to a wider audience. Harlow Playhouse cannot do more than they are with their resources. “All of Me” is not informatively bland, it is potentially transformative.

The audience went away, not just in thoughtful mode but clearly and audibly unpacking the performance. It might have been good to do that with Caroline and her crew in an after-show audience discussion maybe – but perhaps it was important that we had to work out some of the subtle nuances for ourselves, if real change is to be brought about.

All this is nationally and locally relevant, when first-time voters in Harlow are saying that “Mental Health and the welfare of teenagers” among others, are major concerns, that are not being given the attention they need.

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