A Bloody Delight

Sad-Vents is not a play about making its audience feel comfortable. And maybe that’s exactly why you ought to see this tragicomedy dripping with talent this Fringe. 

As audiences arrive at the Underbelly’s Jersey space, the actor begins with a disclaimer of the graphic nature of the play. Feeling fully prepared and locked in for a moment, the thin vail of audience safety is soon removed from under us.

Like Eleanor’s duvet, tossed aside with half-drunk bottles of Cava and prescription pills, so too, are we plunged into the imaginative world of self-professed hypochondriac Eleanor Hill, in her devastatingly liberating tale of grief, love and loss laid-bare.

Starting at the bottom, she begins to detail ‘The most traumatic event of her life’, the loss of her mother. An event she describes with brutally cool sarcasm that makes you feel uneasy in many places; but that’s the whole point. Perhaps in doing this, the actor turns attention back onto the audience, who know nothing of her life, nor should we.

Filming the entirety of the performance from her brightly lit iPhone in a ‘choose your own adventure’ of sorts, audiences could witness the performance from various lenses; either at the Underbelly venue or via her personal live-stream in a wonderfully creative way.

Digitally enhanced at every turn, the brutal detailing of traumatic events are sandwiched between moments of absurdist, rather comforting humour found in the form of the all-seeing Squizz – Eleanor’s childhood pet. Depicted as a meme, gif, and general brand of the show, Squizz brought life to the cameo descriptions of side-characters in this tumultuous tale.

Sporting a lab coat and spectacles, Squizz represents Eleanor’s doctor, a figure she feels abandoned by, and other similarly chaotic figures.

Music and audio play a crucial role within this dark narrative. At the beginning, audiences witness Eleanor being possessed momentarily by the voice of a 1960s Gene Wilder a.k.a. The original and ‘better’ Willy Wonka, Eleanor insists.

The relevance of the faceless Wilder appears to imply supposed madness at the beginning of the play. But its re-appearance cements a lasting connection with the joy experienced in her youth; akin with her fondness towards her father’s sense of humour for example, too.

With themes of mental health, drug abuse and violence floating throughout, audiences are absorbed into the many attempts Eleanor makes to feel better. Activated egg yolks, sea moss and turf, she reads, have properties, google says, supposedly offer relief of the grips of depression. But as the temporary pleasures of her dopamine-surging activities flop; stalking one’s ex offers a satisfaction sweeter than other efforts. 

Creating a google spreadsheet to document her stalking, Eleanor reveals her morning ritual of a very different kind. The scene reminded me of Charlie from Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s company conspiracy map scene; all over the place. 

‘I eat at least one apple a day. Doesn’t keep the doctor away though,’ she says.  In a frantic apple-crunching scene, her longing to feel well again is a touching detail. Journeying through the diagnosis of depression, she talks about being confronted by ‘happy pills’ judging her. ‘On drugs: ‘I would’ve preferred cocaine but they don’t give those out on the NHS’. 

As thoughts and rambles tumble out, there are moments when Eleanor breaks the fourth wall. But they’re few and far between. She checks-in with us.

‘Sorry that was a bit of an over-share’, she ponders. But leaving the auditorium, I over-heard a fellow audience member, clearly affected by the performance. ‘Do any of us actually have a unique experience?’ she said to her friends. I was a bit stunned. We had witnessed a series of chilling misfortunate events – and then, I wasn’t.

Post-show, I too, found morbid curiosity to search the user, the grotesque character of Eleanor’s ex boyfriend – and who, I was certain, could not truly be a real person. 

And to my relief, he wasn’t. Scanning the parody profile on my walk home, with a bio offering nothing but a series of red flag emojis and provocative, celebratory Andrew-Tate posts; Eleanor has the last laugh.

‘Free’, a song by Florence and the Machine welcomed audiences in, and remained in my head during my walk post-show. A song of liberation, with a music video personifying anxiety through dance and performance despite its remaining presence perfectly illustrates the joy to be found amongst sadness Sad-Vent has to offer. Eleanor, like Florence, calls us to dance despite the traumas of the past; as the present and future holds something much greater for her, not yet captured by the fluorescent pale blue glow of a mobile screen.

The performance is happening at 14.30 until 28 August and lasts for one hour. As mentioned, the performance contains distressing or potentially triggering themes, scenes of a sexual nature, and  strong language/swearing throughout; well worth a watch if you’re up for something disturbingly honest and gripping this August.

More information about the show can be found here.

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Edinburgh-based journalist. Lover of radio and print.