Grey – The Play

Grey is described as a “colourful, candid show exploring depression and black women’s mental health”. The brainchild of the incredibly talented Koko Brown, this masterpiece of a play is a coalesce of BSL (British Sign Language), spoken word and vocal looping.

Koko’s plays a nameless character simply known as Women. Women is an individual suffering with a chemical imbalance that resulted has resulted in depression. Ugly and crude, her depression feels endless and enduring and is an interesting contrast to the romanticised perceptions of depression as beautiful and artistic. Having exhausted all other solutions Women makes the brave decision to try the anti-depressant route in the form of Citalopram. Accompanying KoKo on her journey to wellness and stability is Sapphire Joy ‘s character. We never discover who Sapphire Joy’s character is, however for me Sapphire Joy’s character fluctuates between a personification of emotion and the conflicting internalised voice of the illness.

I had the pleasure of watching stripped down, skeletal version of this play in April at Camden People’s Theatre and fell in love with its profoundly honest portrayal of the complexities of mental health within the BAME community. As a black women afflicted with mental illness, I resonated with it’s exploration into the internal struggle between suffering with a disease difficult to distinguish from the individual as person and the digestion of the external stigma surrounding the sickness

How am I to supposed to live this life, in a body that trying to kill me

I implore anyone who watched the play in it’s stripped down infancy to experience its reincarnation. The sound engineering, lighting and set design add another dimension to the already incredibly nuanced play. Koko’s vocal looping and the overall soundscape creates an immersive experience with Koko somehow managing to deliver a vocal performance powerful enough to summon goose bumps – without detracting or distracting from the play’s narrative. You recognise her vocal prowess without it being a fixation; the overlapping layers of her vocals along with the echoes and the play score exemplify the complexities of mental heath.

The set (a backdrop of differing shades of grey), hanging fragmented/ shards and a window frame with a black pane foretell the tone of the play. The grey backdrop relays the varying depths of depression and how immune to other emotions you feel with the shards representing the broken nature of the Woman. The window frame and black pane representing an inability to escape reinforcing the feeling of being trapped in the sadness. Doubling up as a sound visualisation screen, the blackened window frame is used to create distance between the Women and the “entity”. The synchronisation of the soundscape, Koko’s vocals and the visualisations dancing in intensity on the blackened page, were emphatic.

How am I to supposed to live this life, in a body that trying to kill me

My favourite use of the set design was ‘The Clubhouse’ scene. I love the juxtaposition of searching for the colour (dormant emotions) through the grey and dull backdrop of depression. Koko’s use of ‘The Clubhouse’ as a framing device to explore Women’s emotions was genius, as the creation of myths and the discovery of emotions occur in the formative years. The paradox of through regression back to infancy, emotional maturity and an internal comprehension of feelings, can be achieved. The Clubhouse is a parody of children TV programmes, with the topic of today’s episode- sadness and depression. Sadness is manifested into a blue sock puppet

My favourite incorporation of BSL is the confrontation between Woman and the entity I believe personifies emotion. In this incredibly powerful scene, Sapphire and Koko are both completely non verbal and thrive on their ability to translate emotion through movement, facial expressions and body language. It’s the second visit to ‘The Clubhouse’ of emotions however in this occurrence the Women character is on Citalopram. It encapsulated the struggle between stigma and implications of medication, craving stability while trying to remain true the core aspects of the women’s emotions. I feel the suffocation and frustration from both characters. Annoyed at Women’s use of Citalopram, the scene ends with the entity escaping to the window, leaving Women to digest the realities and side effects of Citalopram by herself.

Koko Brown’s ode to black women reduces e to tears every time I hear it. A homage to the victims of misogynoir, Koko challenges 2 harmful and invalidating stereotypes of black women. The archetype of the strong black independent female and the angry black female have been used to justification the invalidation of black women’s feelings and propensity to feel pain. From both a societal and medical perspective, black women are frequently told their feelings are obsolete, unimportant and unwarranted. Institutional racism means my tears carry less weight, than their white counterparts. We aren’t meant to feel weak or the sensation of pain – just absorb it and persevere. Saturated with suffering, trying to access our mental health services is difficult. Koko breaks down the “independent strong black “narrative addressing the meaning of each word. Captivating throughout, my heart always slows down in her expansion and definition of black.
Black adj – the very darkest colour owing to the absence of or complete absorption of light; the opposite of white.
I epitomise the complete absorption and absence of light – I feel consumed with the darkness . I have accepted my status as a strong yet broken individual. Just because I’m broken, it doesn’t mean I’m not strong. I’m not just a black women I am a human being who experience conflicting emotions and hold multiple dialects at the same time. My life is a series of regrets and things I wish I could change but being black and female, is not one of them.

If this play ever gets recommissioned I implore everyone to go see it. Unfortunately I discovered KoKo Brown after the first play in the trilogy #White had ran it’s course but I’m excited to see final play in the trilogy. Her her next body of work #Black focuses on womanhood and I think will be similarly life changing because woman hood is under attack.

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