Art about depression – whether that’s theatre, literature or music – often shares characteristics with the condition it seeks to represent: low-energy and downbeat. Lanre Malaolu’s solo show, Elephant in the Room, is neither of these things. It captures the manic energy of battling depression. A crisp and well-honed piece of dance theatre, it also explores what it is to deal with the condition as a young black man.
Using a combination of acted-out scenes, dance and poetry, Malaolu creates a picture of the life of Michael, the young male narrator. The script zips back and forth between Michael’s half-time talks to the always-failing football team he coaches, his trips to Nando’s with a friend who never pays, a visit to the barber’s shop, and his inner monologue when walking through a city filled with people who view his skin colour as a threat.
The “elephant in the room” of the title is always just out of reach. Malaolu excels at clearly articulating many things that are never said out loud, in particular the message Michael receives from friends and doctors: that men, especially black men, don’t get depression.
The best parts of the show are those in which no words are spoken. Through a mixture of hip-hop-influenced dance and physical theatre, Malaolu creates a visual language of someone constantly fighting against the overpowering mental and physical urge to collapse. The “elephant” is never named, but it is shown – beautifully.