Brigitte Aphrodite is a wonderful performer. Funny, watchable, and present, she has a sold out audience eating out of the palm of her hand before the show has even begun.
My Beautiful Black Dog, Aphrodite’s unabashed theatre-gig about one of society’s biggest taboos has been at Hackney Showroom this week, and before the show starts Aphrodite takes it upon herself personally to apply glitter to the beaming faces of almost everyone in the room.
The show is a personal reflection of Aphrodite’s own bouts of depression, which have kept her away from the stage and confined her to bed for up to three weeks at a time.
Using a mixture of spoken word and song, she is accompanied onstage by the leather-clad, guitar-wielding Quiet Boy, forming a musical duo that invokes shades of Bowie and the Bromley Contingent, where Aphrodite also hails from.
Easy targets though they are, it is the coke-fuelled rants of London’s media trendies that provide Aphrodite with some of her funniest lines. In ‘Pop This Party’, her satire of a Saturday night in Shoreditch, the popping of a champagne cork is one partygoer’s second favourite sound – after birdsong.
Quiet Boy also finds his niche on the track ‘Prickly’, which pitches him somewhere between the hard rock credentials of Dave Grohl and the tongue-in-cheek vocals of Jack White on ‘Danger! High Voltage’. Their partnership is mostly choreographed and amiable but occasionally, like life, it veers into hostility and anger.
The morning after the night before, and following a bitter exchange with her guitarist, Aphrodite retreats to her human-sized, glitter-lined, flight case for the next few minutes. Closing the lid to the world to better contemplate the dark.
In her absence we hear a series of voicemail recordings apparently left on her phone during her real-life depression. We hear what claim to be genuine recordings of Dad, Mum, Nan, boyfriend, and others attempting to coax Aphrodite from out of the box.
But like her onstage relationship with Quiet Boy, it is never entirely clear whether these are genuine. Are they the original recordings, retained during her actual depression or have they have been mocked up for the show? Are the musician and performer a couple in reality or is it purely onstage chemistry?
Even though the show is about honesty and the raw truth, it would benefit from greater artifice. Aphrodite’s unadorned reflections on how she felt at key moments are heartfelt but the lack of metaphor, and character, fails to transmit the message as powerfully as it might.
Nevertheless, this is a courageous performance and both of the performers are excellent, Aphrodite in particular has such a strong relationship with the audience that by the end the whole room was shimmying along with her.
She shares a powerful conclusion with us at the end of the show too – that this is not the end. This journey she is on, along with so many others that suffer with depression, will never be definitively over. It is a present and constant struggle. One that, for now, she is winning.
My Beautiful Black Dog is at Hackney Showroom, Hackney Downs Studios, Amhurst Terrace, E8 2BT until 20 November.