A few hours before I was sat in the audience for Mental, I was confined inside a perilously slow moving lift with fifteen other people on my way to the roof terrace of the National Museum of Scotland. Kids in the lift were pressing buttons not understanding that they were slowing it down and propping the doors open. The back of my neck was uncomfortable and I wanted to scream or get out. The stairs had ended at the 4th floor with no obvious way up to the terrace other than the fire escape or the lift; and before I’d even reached the top, I was already dreading the journey back down.
This wasn’t a panic attack for me, not even close. This was just a small level of discomfort that served to remind me how hyper aware I am of my surroundings, and that sometimes I can feel a little claustrophobic as I’m sure many other in that lift did too. Hey ho. What actually caught me by surprise was that this was not even a little bit close to the ‘I don’t know what’ I felt while sitting in the basement of Assembly Roxy in front of Kane Power.
There were exactly two moments during his performance that I, in all honesty, felt completely overwhelmed and a little bit uneasy. Until this weekend, bipolarism was something I knew very little about. I knew of one person whose mother was bipolar, and nothing more was said about it. What I didn’t know was that it used to be called ‘manic depression’, a phrase which sounded much more familiar to me than the clinical word ‘bipolar’. I also now know that bipolar is so much more than so-called manic depression, if it’s even that at all for some people.
Mental isn’t about Kane Power, it’s about his mother Kim. Kim co-wrote the show and inspired the words, songs and performance that unfold with Kane on stage. We, the audience, aren’t really observing a show, we’re listening to a story. It’s just that we’re really good listeners and Kane talks or sings for a whole hour. It was the best way to do it, with not a single interruption, discounting the numerous phone calls and messages left by Kim. But it’s fine, Kane tells us.
“…the more I perform the show I realise that Mental is also about more than me and my mum and her mental illness. It is about the mind, yes my mum’s mind and my mind but it’s also about your mind too. And if it’s about the mind, somehow it’s about the heart, the soul, and about humans being.”
What I loved most about Mental was that it educated and moved me at the same time. If a performance can do that, you’re unlikely to forget the message. I didn’t leave understanding bipolarism, I left feeling its effect and I know that won’t go away. The boxes, pills, props and the neon graph all served their purpose to tell Kim and Kane’s story, and they did it so translucently.
As with the peaks and troughs of Kane’s neon graphs, the performance was light and heavy throughout which left me feeling a little breathless. I was taken aback by how Kane described the euphoric side of bipolar: with manipulation of a song. It’s potentially quite triggering if you ever experience anxiety (as I do), and I was shocked by the way this short (thankfully) fragment of the show made me feel. It was a little like being in that lift – I started off feeling great, I was going to the roof terrace, and then it all started to feel terrifying, frustrating and inescapable until the doors finally sprung open onto the stunning Edinburgh skyline. But I didn’t enjoy the roof terrace, because I was anticipating the lift scenario happening all over again as there appeared to be only one way back down. During Mental, I was anticipating the next loud and electric ensemble of marbled language and confused mash of words. It happened, and it was loud, but it was always followed by Kane’s down to earth and frank conversation, moving songs and fascinating analogies.
Of the three Edinburgh Festival Fringe performances I saw on this day, the one I couldn’t stop thinking about was Mental. Whether or not you’ve lived through anxiety, depression, bipolarism or anything else you would stick inside a box called ‘mental health’, this show is going to leave a lasting impression, and I couldn’t recommend it enough.
Mental is at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this August. Get tickets.