My Beautiful Black Dog

Depression, the world’s most indiscriminate endemic, remains one of our greatest taboos. 

Affecting as many as 300 million people worldwide, our tendency to use anthropomorphic imagery for an often destructive illness illustrates the sheer disconnect we face when it comes to addressing mental health. 

Broadcasted from the rooftops, yet encased in heavy boxes. Dismissed like a school class, but ever calling in response to their name. As much as we strive to deny it, we are living in a world with increasing levels of mental illness: a growing number of dogs whose bark we can no longer afford to ignore.

Brought to the stage by Boom Shakalaka Productions, My Beautiful Black Dog tells the story of Brigitte Aphrodite. The writer and performer of the story, Brigitte openly confesses that she too has a black dog. Yet unlike so many others, she showcases her condition alongside musical director, Quiet Boy, encasing it in a body of glitter and musicality. 

This play seeks to twist the stereotypes surrounding topics such as depression, self-harm, and fragile minds. “Frunning” into the “miserabality” of a world filled to the brim with buzz killers.

My Beautiful Black Dog exists not only as an ode to Brigitte’s experience of depression, but it also expresses the frustration at the lack of opportunity to discuss the affliction from a multi-dimensional platform.

Her message is that ownership of depression is beautiful: revealing your darkness is beautiful and ignorance bears no answer more than a typhoon of feelings, transformed for this piece, into song and glitter. 

Visibility is core to Brigitte’s intentions. A feast for the senses from start to finish, Brigitte’s voracious determination to disseminate the discussion shows in every scene. What makes My Beautiful Black Dog stand out, however, is how inherently hopeful the play is from start to finish.

The initial scene features a moment where Brigitte herself encourages viewers to mask their faces with glitter. While this less-than-ordinary and initially confusing proposition raise eyebrows for some in the first instance, as Brigitte invites her audience on her journey, soon the glitter makes sense.

The journey is personal, yet as Brigitte addresses her audience continually, we understand that the ‘black dog’ is a universal experience that is inherent to us all.

We know, as an audience, that Brigitte has depression from the onset, although the plethora of throw-back teen pop music and upbeat jokes would fool outsiders into thinking otherwise. The only slither of a clue is revealed through the dialogue she maintains between herself and Quiet Boy. Although he is supportive and encouraging throughout her ordeal, their rare exchanges reveal the strain placed on their relationship as a result of her illness. 

It doesn’t matter if she is out and ‘popping’ parties; her spiralling debt, isolation overconsumption of alcohol and drugs leads her to warn, in a stark and chipper manner: “everything that goes up must come down.”

Depression is always there.

When Brigitte does come down – and she does come down fast – the following emotional rollercoaster is all too familiar to this reviewer. 

Emptiness. Nothingness. 

A world that suddenly realises, wants to connect, but cannot reach past the barrier. Brigitte no longer enjoys the world around her and shuts down. When Quiet Boy helps Brigette from her passed out state, she miserably exclaims: “I can’t stand the sight of you.”

As Brigitte lays in her room for 3 weeks, the audience is treated to a montage of voicemails. Brigitte’s grandmother – her Yaya – is not only frustrated at Brigitte’s decision to isolate herself for three weeks, but also over the fact that she has to venture out into a field just to get a signal.  

Slowly but surely as Brigitte peers out of her box again, the humour starts to seep back into the script, but it is a downgrade from the previous extravagance; a mere charade to mask what the audience witnesses as a growing, black dog.

The brilliantly written script allies well to a carefully considered soundtrack, which contrast sharply to what would otherwise have been an incredibly morose theatrical experience. 

Bundled with overwhelming charm, My Beautiful Black Dog is unafraid to address the fact that all too often, we proclaim the lives of others around us as ideal, perfect, happy. It can be easy to forget how one slight tug of the carpet can draw us into a void where, just like Brigitte’s Yaya, it feels as though absolutely no signal can reach us at all. 

Brigitte does not hesitate to claim ownership of her own beautiful black pup throughout the entire piece. This is an incredibly raw piece that reveals in both its weaknesses and its strengths, without fear of reprisal. It is brutally honest and entrancing – and although some may lament that there is no conclusion or ‘happy ending’ as Brigitte points out, that is precisely the point.

Depression will always remain is our conclusion. So too, will hope.

Brigitte Aphrodite’s My Beautiful Black Dog will continue its tour in the Sheffield’s Picture House Social on 14th of October. Don’t miss your chance to see this spectacular performance.

April Ryan

April is an aspiring disabled writer and journalist. An introverted linguist, April would learn every known language in the world if she had the time to do so. She often plays comic relief characters for the theatre production group, RAWD.