House of Blakewell: Everything Is Absolutely Fine
Whether one has experienced a mental health disorder or not, House of Blakewell’s comedy musical explores anxiety in a way everyone can relate to. Alice Keedwell, writer of the two-man production, plays Alice, who, having moved to a new town, is desperate to recreate herself via new friends, wellness activities and a fresh, breezy persona. Her only obstacle is relentless anxiety, introduced through an inner monologue that darts between over-exuberant ambition and vicious self-deprecation. Anxiety is then personified by an impeccably dressed, blank-faced man on the piano (Harry Blake), who narrates Alice’s anxious thought stream with comically timed dryness. The unhelpful, snide remark in all of her interactions, he lurks, challenges and doubts, while she flusters through reality in the foreground. On the minimal set, his deadpan disinterest against her bright eyes and multicoloured star pyjamas (which she wears throughout) constitutes a shrewdly entertaining dialogue dynamic.
Alice’s ambitions are raised by ballads, her heightened awareness musically manifested into glamorous romps. The title song becomes a flailing mantra of irony in the face of situations that are absolutely not fine. London ideals she believes define coolness are put on a pedestal by savvy, quick-turning lyricism that elicit a chuckle in their ingeniousness but are saddening in the overall picture they evoke. The play draws on anxiety arising from the most mundane tasks – normalising, as opposed to alienating symptoms, so that all viewers can draw connections to their own experiences.
Work scenes (with Alice in her role as an occupational therapist) are intersected with disastrous social encounters, and take on a sombre tone in their progression from meetings to disciplinaries and complaints, gently addressing how anxiety, and (more importantly) not talking about it, can have an adverse impact in professional settings too. Alice’s turning point arrives when she opens up to people with an impulsive honesty that dismantles her anxiety’s perceptions. The final hurrah, as expected with anything that describes itself as a musical, is unavoidably cheesy, but there are inklings of cohesion growing between her two selves.
Keedwell is endearing as the clumsy but comfortingly real protagonist, whose stumbles and struggles are both entertaining and upsetting to witness. Like much of the art now destigmatising mental health disorders, Everything Is Absolutely Fine welcomes viewers into the reality of sufferers inclusively and lightheartedly, but with an acute purpose to increase understanding of how debilitating anxiety can be. The House of Blackwell pair are attuned to what modern society needs to see and hear to make a message stick, on their toes but grounded in humour and resilience. This is a rewarding and worthy ode to fucking things up and getting back up again.
Photos: Trust a Fox
House of Blakewell: Everything Is Absolutely Fine is at from 15th May until 1st January 1970. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.