You have a good life: you’re strong & independent, have a place to live and food to eat. But you feel sad a lot of the time – why is this? It doesn’t make any sense.
Koko Brown is back with her new show GREY, following on from last year’s hit one-woman play WHITE. This instalment of the Colour Trilogy explores depression and black women’s mental health; it uses a similar blend of vocal loops, music and spoken word, however this time it is fully BSL-integrated – performer Sapphire Joy is with her every step of the way. The beauty of sign language being integrated into the essence of the show is that means it’s not a mere appendage, instead it holds its own narrative importance and Joy is entirely included in the story. This makes it actually quite difficult to know what to watch at times! Even if you are not versed in British Sign Language it’s fairly straightforward to follow. It just proves that it’s not at all difficult to make shows more inclusive & accessible, and also that it can be done in an imaginative & entertaining way.
For such a heavy subject, the play has quite a considerable amount of humour; whether it’s Joy getting a bit sassy, or Brown being asked to spell ‘citalopram’, there is much needed light as well as shade. The looping is another welcome inclusion, as it allows Brown to create music that can be quietly played in the background of certain scenes, as well as turned into songs that allow her to express her emotions in a very free-flowing and cathartic way.
Nicholai La Barrie’s direction presents the show in an engaging way, making good use of the performance space and keeping things quite dynamic. Emily Harwood’s set design provides an abstract & interesting backdrop with which to play, allowing the performers the freedom to move around, not getting confined to one space. The only thing that could do with a bit of tightening up is how to transition between scenes; there are a few blackouts & silences (or hurried resetting) which means it doesn’t always flow as well as it should – considering how inventive the show itself is, this side of things just needs to catch up a bit.
Mental health continues to be a big talking point, and it’s vital that works such as this continue to get produced. As we learn more, these kinds of shows can play a key role in keeping conversations going. Brown mentions that quite a few people experiencing poor mental health don’t get the help that they need (for one reason or another), and that it seems to disproportionately affect black people. Her words & performances are so raw & heartfelt that I’m sure they will resonate with people who are having a hard time – and hopefully GREY can find a wide range of audiences to help carry its message further.
My verdict? An imaginative way to keep the mental health conversation going and a great follow-up to WHITE – Koko Brown and Sapphire Joy are wonderful to watch.
GREY runs at Ovalhouse until 13 July 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.