Thursday, 5 October 2017

Dramaturgy Yet? Katie Berglöf @ Courtyard, London

by Katie Berglöf
Following a sell-out run at Edinburgh's 2016 Fringe, where it was awarded 4 stars from The List, Happy Yet? comes to London’s Courtyard Theatre Oct 24-28. The dark comedy set in Stockholm combines elements of Nordic drama and farce, to offer a fresh take on depression, anxiety and mental illness. 

From an attic flat in Stockholm, Torsten wages battle not only with his brother and his sister-in-law - but with his own mercurial mind. Happy Yet? is the story of the Sandqvist family and their struggle to understand Torsten and his disordered moods and dysfunction. 

As a permanent guest in his brother's home, Torsten is constantly reminded of his inadequacy and inability to live up to conventions of Swedish society. Relying on his intelligence, quick wit and unnerving charm, Torsten fools and flirts his way in and out of trouble: he toys with the law, his brother’s hospitality, and ultimately his family’s love. Torsten’s decisions become more extreme and increasingly irreversible - will he and his family survive his antics and unravelling mind?

What was the inspiration for this performance?

When I was eleven, I lost my uncle to suicide. Like so many other families, for many years we were unable to talk about our grief. For me, writing Happy Yet? was a way of processing the trauma- I can only hope the play helped my family too. 

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

I believe that for issues as complex as the mind and mental health, theatre and film may be the most powerful spaces for discussion. My uncle was depressed, but he was also the life and soul of every party- he was always laughing, at least when in public. With Happy Yet? I am trying to do justice to my uncle’s wit, and to everyone who has experienced the lows, but also the highs. The conversation surrounding mental health needs to change- nothing is black and white. The most life-threatening cases are going unnoticed because of society’s obsession with putting people in categories with suitable labels and then treating accordingly.  

How did you become interested in making performance?

I have always written down snippets of dialogue- whether it’s a funny quote or a conversation overheard in a coffee shop, I’ll record it. Imagining and recreating the scenes around these comments seemed to be a natural next step.  

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

We showcased Happy Yet? at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, where we had an hour and ten minutes running time- including five minutes to set up and take down the set. Naturally, our set designer is rejoicing at the opportunity to keep the set up for longer than one hour. Our approach with the performances at the Courtyard has been to learn as much as possible from last year. Having said that, the play is now very different- I have edited and doubled the script in size, and we have an almost entirely new cast.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

Well this is my first and only play (but hopefully not my last), so it is very much a development from last year’s production.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I want the audience to experience the rollercoaster of Torsten’s moods; I want them to feel the sadness, but also the joy and light that he brings to his family. The play is about these fluctuating, and often volatile emotions, and the effect they have on the family- I hope this comes across.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
With this production we are hoping to bring out the comedy as much as possible. For me, dark and tragic moments are most powerful when offset by humour.    

A fresh voice to theatre, 22-year-old Swedish playwright Katie Berglöf wrote her first play Happy Yet? from personal experience. Berglöf grew up watching a close family member endure years of depression, mood swings and misunderstanding. The play uses humour to turn tragedy into a source of understanding, dignity and hope.

Above the Moon Productions was created to address the epidemic of anxiety, depression and mood disorders amongst the millennials. Happy Yet? its first play, tackles the stigma and humiliation of being labelled mentally ill.

Showcased at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016, Happy Yet? has been revised and extended for its London debut at Courtyard Theatre, October 24 – 28.

WHEN Oct 24-28, 7:30pm 

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