Musical shines the spotlight on suicide, bipolar disorder

A rendition of ‘Baba Yetu’ during the ‘Insight: Beyond the Edge’ musical. PHOTO | IVY NYAYIEKA

Insight: Beyond the Edge is a mixed-media production which presents the experiences of people suffering from suicidal ideation and bipolar disorder through dance, audiovisual stories, live musical performances and spoken word.

Considering what a heavy theme suicide is, the opportunity to engage with it through the musical was welcome. It allowed the subject seriousness but also granted it a kind of softness that art forms such as the traditional play or a book may not have afforded it.

That said, even through dance, images remained effectively jarring. For instance, a ladder was centred in many scenes and the dancers often reached to the sky- an eerie reference to suicide by hanging.

The solo performances by dancers such as Raymond Owoko and Juliet Duckworth were exemplary. In particular, the scene in which Lilian Nyambura was crossing the road seemed nearly real. In the background played a video of hooting cars and a monologue. On the smoking stage, fellow dancers walked about as pedestrians.

Particularly thought-provoking was the sound art. In one audio piece, there was a mishmash of overlapping voices in which different individuals are questioning their worth. The last statement is clear and stands alone: “I hate myself.” This was reminiscent both of the fact that so many people suffer from depression but also of the over analysation that often characterises mental illness.

The musical also made reference to the facade of wellness when it comes to mental health. After an upbeat performance to the song Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows in which the dancers are colourfully dressed, they start speaking over each other saying: “She's really happy. Such a happy family. She's wonderful. Don't worry about her.”

I was a fan of the ending in which Jenetta Barry, the producer who lost her daughter to suicide, talked about the two polarities that are depression and mania and then presented them with sombre dancers in black costumes and then with erratic dancers in white costumes performing Pharrell's Happy. There was something ominous about both performances.

However, a performance of Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick’s True Colours in which both groups wore colourful clothes represented a coveted balance between the two polarities. The play is especially relevant today not only because of the suicides of the celebrities Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade but also closer home because of increased concern over suicide incidents, especially among men and the police force.

The play ended with an uplifting Baba Yetu rendition while the cast was dressed in priestly clothes. I found this not only appropriate but necessary considering the themes the audience engaged with.

In fact, the cast came down the stage clapping and encouraged the audience to dance with them, something that ended in some enthusiastic members turning the clap into a nae nae dance.

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