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> > > SICK! Lab: Bryony Kimmings: Fake It ’Til You Make It

Contact Theatre, Manchester hosted SICK! Lab a focussed 4-day programme of performances, presentations and discussions from 9-12 March. Alice Holland reviews a sell-out performance of a show that lifts the lid off men and mental health

A photograph from the play Fake it 'til you Make it, featuring Bryony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn. The former is holding a whisk, the latter has a hammer.

Bryony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn Fake it 'til you Make it. © Richard Davenport

Presented as a series of intimate vignettes through song, dance and confessional, Fake It Til You Make it explores themes of masculinity, depression and the role of the partner/carer in romantic relationships.

Bryony and her fiance Tim are utterly adorable in their dynamic; she the consummate show-woman with a well-deserved reputation as one of the UK’s most interesting theatre makers, and he the hero of the piece, facing his demons and representing the current crisis in mental health particularly affecting young men. 

Depression is the biggest killer of men under 50, and Tim could well have joined that silent assembly were it not for the rigorous work he and Bryony relay in what is one of the most emotionally affecting pieces I have seen on the subject.

A light touch, playful performance and a stylish home-made-hipster aesthetic allow an easy and pleasurable entry to the story, and the confidence with which we are guided through the show immediately engages empathy.

By the end I was not only rooting for them, for true love and for triumph over anguish but I could see my own story, and that of my partner/carer, reflected as a huge network I was part of. 

Non-professional carers and support networks are often under-acknowledged, but one of the major keys to dealing with depression is human interaction and those around us who keep us afloat.

Caring for a lover with depression is a bull run; you just have to hang on and hope you make it through the disruption of your relationship, and whilst it can be life-threateningly scary, the impact that shared survival can have on intimacy and trust is phenomenal, if only a shared language and strategy can be found. Too often couples remain silent to one another about mental health, and in this silence lives despair and distance. 

 This is one of many silences amplified by Fake It; social and gendered reluctance to talk about depression, the ghastly side-effects of Citalopram, the Sisyphean experience of fluctuating conditions, the lies we tell ourselves that love can expose without warning and the pressures specific to male experience of mental health issues. 

The ‘real man’ is held up as a concrete but completely unhelpful construct, and further exploration of this would have strengthened the piece, which is overall a complete gift. We are left space to cry, and we do, and the accessible style of the show does valuable work in opening compassionate conversations around mental health. 

Some may find the jaunty song-and-dance approach to depression initially jarring or provocative but my impression is the Kimmings and Grayburn know exactly what they are doing; this is a big, broad conversation that we all need to have, and poking social stigma with a glittery rather than pointed stick, is not only Kimmings’ hugely successful trademark but essential and appropriate to stimulating that conversation for so many people hiding in the dark. 

Fake It ’TIl You Make It tours until November 2016, showing in Warwick, Birmingham, Canterbury, Cork, Dun Laoghaire, Harrogate, Oxford, Bristol, London, Plymouth and Cambridge. Please click on the link to Bryony Kimmings’ website for full details.