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Eeyore: the Undeniable Highlight of On The Rocks Festival

Alix Ramillion reviews the popular independent theatre production.

On 24 and 27 March, Eeyore, an independent student-led production, was performed at the Buchanan Lecture Theatre.

The subtitle - ‘a saddish play’ - gave us a taster of its subject matter. Through eight witty vignettes, the performance satirised different aspects of depression. This authentic fresco of serious subjects (depression, sadness, feeling lost…), was pushed to the extent of depicting the excessive and ludicrous human behaviours illustrative of depression without taking itself altogether too seriously.

This was a refreshing take on serious subject matter. Struggles with mental health are something that many students might relate to, particularly after their lives and “experiences were affected by covid and lockdown”, as Elliot Lawless and Rhys Richards, the co-directors of the play, told me.

According to the play’s logic, it is easier to swallow the rawness of sadness by portraying it as a common experience shared by all, including the spectator. The play’s aim was to “give a snapshot into the things that [depressed individuals] feel, and not say anything about them”, Richards told me.

Lawless expanded, telling me how the play’s name was inspired by the fictional character from A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, but another major influence was Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin with respect to “the epitome of dark humour”.

What I mainly found intriguing about the play was the way in which it delivered metaphors of absurdism and sadness (a shoe, hand, or cigarette) throughout the vignettes, but didn’t expressly state any value judgments about them. The play did not offer any conclusive moral perspectives on mental illness, but rather focused on a process of catharsis. The comedic undertones were used as a vehicle to deliver an increasingly sad narrative, building to the play’s crescendo.

Although structurally-deconstructed, I didn’t find Eeyore to be incongruous. I enjoyed the leitmotivs and the circularity of the play. The first vignette, ‘Funeral decorum’, and the last, ‘Jury’s verdict’ were set in a scenery of dark humour that perfectly encapsulated the performance’s undertones. By breaking the fourth wall, the protagonists of these scenes immersed themselves into the audience’s reality. The play further presented brilliant and different approaches to sadness: for instance, misery was depicted as something that should be made fun of rather than indulged in.

The first vignette was poignant in satirising depression’s egocentrist and excessive nature. Moving lines included ‘If I’m sad, it’s because I think about sad stuff’, and ‘I’m thinking about myself, I don’t give a shit about anyone else’. It also dealt with the issue of romanticising mental illness on social media and the troublesome perspective of ‘sadness as being sexy’. I particularly enjoyed how it showed the absurdity and transience of the human experience through very trivial symbols.

Of particular note was the performance of Henry Empson, who brilliantly portrayed Tyler Durden (not the alter ego in Fight Club!) a caricature of Dr. Phil, whose character led a reality show which focused on the failing relationship between a posh mother (Joss Oliver) and her son (Theo Verden). The scene culminated in a compilation of Tyler Durden’s most ridiculous moments, a reel that was expertly made by Lia da Giau. This was peak comedy.

The play transitioned well between these silly moments and the omnipresent and looming shadow of the memento mori represented by ‘Doctor Death’ (Sam Robinson), a drunk doctor attempting to announce the diagnosis of his patient while simultaneously contrasting it with a psychotic, self-help guru who’s convinced that he can cure depression (Lila Patterson).

Overall, what I thought most impressive about the play was its immense success and complexity as an independent production. Tommy Hogan, the producer and stage manager, told me how Eeyore had “to work harder to convince people that it was worth it, but this led to more creativity as we didn’t have to focus on the potential ‘controversiality’ of the play.”

Moreover, Empson told me that “Rhys and Elliot had never directed before, and a lot of the actors had no prior theatre experience.” This is certainly testament to how Eeyore was, first and foremost, the fruit of passion and creativity.

Image: Eeyore 2023 on Facebook

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