Elephant in the Room at Camden People’s Theatre: A prime example of how theatre can influence, spark debate and help change the world for the better
Theatrical movement, monologue and hip hop dance are combined in director, choreographer and performer Lanre Malaolu’s compelling, high-octane semi-autobiographical one-man show Elephant in the Room, about the issue of depression in young black men. Exploring toxic masculinity as a coping method, the piece examines the processes of denial used to stay psychologically afloat in a racist world.
Portraying a young male’s struggle to come to terms with his declining mental health, principal character Michael is confused and suffering from mood disorders and anxiety and repeatedly, desperately clings to a macho ethos and dismissal of his problems to convince himself that everything is fine – despite evidence that something is amiss – as he cannot even leave his bed or focus. Fearing weakness – because his mind and emotions won’t cooperate with his self-image of commanding masculinity – he attempts to force his depression away with self-imposed wilful mantras: “dominate, dominate”. With almost a parody of positive thinking psychology, Michael insists that he needs only to be upbeat and stop being negative and all will be well. Incorporating several roles, the artist also plays people in his life who have affected his self-image.
A young blue-collar man from Hackney, superficially, Michael’s life seems functional. He has a good job, many friends and coaches football. Malaolu exhibits how such surface normality is irrelevant to inner happiness and psychological health, only serving to increase negation of mental instability and the shame associated with it. For men – expected to be strong and competent – there is greater challenge in coming to terms with admitting or facing depression. Weakness is not an option but self-denial becomes self-destruction. For a black man the stigma is compounded in the face of racism.
Elephant in the Room addresses very important issues in our society relating to toxic machismo and mental illness and points to a need for more understanding of how difficult it can be to be male in today’s world, especially a black male. By bravely revealing his own inner conflicts, the artist invites dialogue around a topic many are too embarrassed to address. This well presented piece is a prime example of how theatre can influence, spark debate and help change the world for the better. Malaolu’s poignant and thought-provoking use of words, in fusion with a dynamic physicality in dance, results in a powerful tour de force.
Photo: Lanre Malaou
Elephant in the Room is at Camden People’s Theatre from 2nd until 20th April 2019 as part of The Sick of the Fringe: Care & Destruction. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.