Cancel the Sunshine, Hope Theatre ★★★★½

Reviewed for The Reviews Hub.

“I survived the weekend.” In Chantelle Dusette’s one-act play, Maya Thomas plays a young London woman who has a typical life: a weekday 9-to-5 job, Friday nights which extend into Saturday morning, and which require a Netflix binge-watch to recover in time for the whole cycle to begin again.

Signs that all may not be well with Thomas’s character emerge gradually, from her anxieties at being stared at on the Tube and her solution of removing her glasses so that she can’t see the people doing so. Dusette’s script, flitting between prose and rhyme with ease, introduces the concept of depression in stages, always balancing the warning signs with flashes of wickedly observed humour. Thomas’s re-enactment of various conversations – most notably a cringingly familiar workplace talk – contains some sharply observed comedy, while illustrating how a depressive personality can go unnoticed by others. For Thomas, hiding so successfully in plain sight is a win, a means of telling herself that she isn’t too bad.

But as the play progresses, Thomas’s portrayal takes on darker turns, effectively conveying the physical pain of being pinned down by one’s own depression. And when an attempt to reach out to a friend is fobbed off by someone who is in even more denial than Thomas – “you’re not depressed, you’re just feeling a bit low. Everyone gets low” – the crushing familiarity will hit home to anyone who either is, has been, or knows someone who is living with depression.

The promise of professional help offers a way out, although with Thomas trying to second guess the “appropriate” answers to her therapist’s multiple choice questionnaire assessing her mental state, the play continues to find humorous moments. The relief that Thomas expresses on their initial session – to have someone who isn’t just listening, but actually hears her – is countered by the anxieties she feels when the therapist has to cancel a session. It’s a yo-yoing feeling that will again be familiar. The quality of Dusette’s writing is such that we get a character that feels fully formed and distinct, yet whose thoughts and emotions are remarkably universal.

At the end of the hour, there are no easy answers, no neatly-tied bow – although when Thomas says, more literally this time, “I survived the weekend”, we are in a different place with her in ways that feel dramatically satisfying. Director Scott Le Crass provides Thomas with a staging that allows her solo performance to shine, although the inclusion of unnecessary, student-quality abstract filmed materials at the start and end of the piece distract from, rather than enhance, an onstage performance which is strong enough to stand on its own.