Lagos Theatre Festival 2019: In “All in your head” suicide is a strangled cry for help

What do we feel when we lose a loved one, especially to suicide?

Is it Grief or is it Guilt?

This is the question at the heart of this experimental play, “All in Your Head”, which tackles, the usually undiscussed mental health.

Segueing between the stage and screen, the play which made its premiere at the Lagos Theatre Festival 2019, uses audiovisual aids to approximate the mind-scape of young people suffering from sundry mental health challenges.

Joy played by Theodora Onoapoi commits suicide a short while away from her wedding to Dayo played by Timi Charles. The parents do not want the people to know that their daughter committed suicide so they lie that she died from an asthma attack.

But Joy had suffered from depression before taking her life.

Unable to fully process her depression and the attendant death, her friends Isioma (Goodness Emmanuel) and Francis (Charles Etubiebi) as well as Ugo and Dayo see-saw between feelings of grief and guilt and then depression.

Isioma, who is set to marry suddenly becomes listless and withdrawn. Her boyfriend Francis notices and mistakes the strange behaviour for infidelity and cold feet and even when he is clued in, he finds it hard to wrap his head around this strange disease.

Isioma’s behavior is classic clinical depression and she captures it aptly in words when she says “I used to enjoy my life, now I endure it.”

Joy, as a ghost, is ever present, monitoring and hoping to help her friends come to terms with depression and her suicide. But she is not a tactile presence until…

“All in your head’ attempts to show what the mind of a mentally unhealthy person feels and looks like. Using light to create mood, we are taken into an interior exploration of a diseased mindscape.

Dayo, when it all gets too much, drinks, blacks out and attempts suicide on the day he was supposed to get married to Joy.

Ugo, the bar man acts as a father confessor and his bar with the alcohol he serves manages to provide a social service as a public space for therapy. Once in their cups, the men become voluble and all their pain curdled to rage come tumbling out.

What the play makes clear is that depression does not end with suicide because the living are not only left with many unanswered questions but they are burdened with heavy guilt.

While the characters are not sure of the road map to happiness, they know that sharing is the first step in the healing process because as Ugo, the Bar man says, “You cannot bottle it all in. You will explode someday.”

It is that explosion that we call “committing suicide” even though it is no more than a strangled cry for help.

This is a play that provides a handle for navigating mental health issues and moving us from a place of fear and suspicion and lack of understanding to a place of empathy.

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