EFR - Reviews of My Beautiful Black Dog

My Beautiful Black Dog

Thu 6th – Sun 16th August 2015

reviews

Fergus Morgan

at 10:24 on 8th Aug 2015

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Mental health is a prominent issue at the Edinburgh Fringe. Exhaustion, competition and daily judgement create a heady cocktail of stress that is enough to waylay those of the strongest confidence. Brigitte Aphrodite’s My Beautiful Black Dog, with its idiosyncratic examination of one woman’s struggle with depression, is a pertinent piece of theatre then, not to mention a powerful one.

Named after Churchill’s famous description of his personal demons, My Beautiful Black Dog is a musical journey of Brigitte Aphrodite’s own struggle with mental health and alcoholism. Performed by Aphrodite, with the jangling guitar accompaniment of musical director ‘Quiet Boy’, it is presented as a series of original songs - sometimes raucous, sometimes tender, but always heartfelt – interspersed with brief monologues and dialogue.

With something of the kookiness of Zooey Deschanel (albeit turned up to a terrifying 11), the lyrics of a traumatised Lily Allen, the self-concern of Morrissey and the righteous anger of Billy Bragg, Aphrodite’s vocals are wholly engaging. The musical numbers occasionally tend towards abrasive noise, but one is never left in any doubt that the messages they contain and the emotions they embody are thoroughly genuine, which lends them a tremendous gravitas. One, Pop The Party, which presents Aphrodite’s descent into substance abuse against uncomfortably upbeat backing music, is particularly memorable.

Played out against a stark brick wall, with few props but a variety of glittery costume changes, My Beautiful Black Dog’s aesthetics are the perfect complement to its content. Aphrodite and Quiet Boy are energetic to the point of frenzy, jumping around the stage, screaming at each other, then relapsing into dreamlike calm. Frequently, Aphrodite retreats into a large black box, only to remerge with a changed costume and a changed mood.

The show’s greatest strength, however, is Aphrodite's writing. Her rapid-fire bursts of monologue show creativity, verbal dexterity, and perhaps most impressively, a sensitive touch of humour – “Me, I’d fall in love with a bus-stop if I was waiting there long enough” receives a notable laugh.

Don’t be fooled, though. Despite these flashes of humour, this is a serious show about a serious subject and at times, Aphrodite’s performance can be difficult to watch.

That said, My Beautiful Black Dog never strays into total self-pity. Crucially, it is a tale told by someone aware of their problems and tentatively trying to address them, which lends it a precious air of optimism - most obvious in the soaring penultimate number, ‘Creshendorious’. Aphrodite herself gets it exactly right – despite its dark subject matter, this is ultimately a hopeful play.

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Julia Pritchard

at 11:40 on 8th Aug 2015

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A woman, dressed head-to-toe in glitter, spinning around in a black music case with a disco ball on her head. This is the first sight that greets me upon arrival at My Beautiful Black Dog, written by and starring Brigitte Aphrodite. And frankly, the show continues to be equally as bonkers in its entirety.

Starring only Aphrodite and her musical accompaniment, referred to as ‘Quiet Boy’, the gig-musical follows her struggle with depression. Progressing through stages of her life including her first doctors’ appointment, the experience of mixing drink and drugs against medical orders and ‘Mac Ruby Woo’, a sexual encounter she names after her lipstick, it all sounds quite promising. But, with its insane dance routines and wordy, wannabe Kate Nash style songs (one of which called ‘Pop the Party’ is performed in a yellow cape of feathers and party hat), it is made very difficult for the audience to take seriously.

The piece does come into some strength as it goes on. Aphrodite enters the state of ‘Nothingness’ - a numb mental state powerfully represented by a dark, empty stage, with her locked in a silent black box. Followed by a collection of voicemails from her loved ones, this state proved to be one of the more poignant moments of the production.

The show’s conclusion, a letter written by Aphrodite to her family was, ironically, by far the funniest moment of the production. Full of emotion but interspersed with witty one-liners, including one where she compares her depression to a world without Jarvis Cocker, the stand-up comic style here is the show’s stand-out moment. No glitter or wild shape-throwing to be seen, the phrase ‘less is more’ could not be more appropriate. Despite the sequin-ridden craziness that had ensued only half an hour before, this moment was touching.

Yet this sincere ending was completely interrupted by Aphrodite’s final song in which she made the audience shimmy - the women their breasts and the men, well, their… you get my gist. Empowering, maybe, but mainly just embarrassing.

Mostly mad but mildly amusing, the show does deserve recognition for its portrayal of mental health issues, and how to overcome them.

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