My Beautiful Black Dog is a rock gig: it is hardcore, it is loud, it is messy, it is an incredibly meaningful meditation on mental health and how we talk about it, don’t talk about it, and carry it with us at all time. While Winston Churchill famously described his depression as a black dog that followed him everywhere he went, Aphrodite calls her dog Crescendorious, explicitly mixing the worlds of music (and its inevitable crescendo) and the gloriousness of a life honestly lived. Aphrodite’s performance is a mental health survival tale without a clear, start to finish narrative, and without ever calling herself a survivor: the piece is most successful when it recognises the form it might be shoe-horned into, and rejecting it: My Beautiful Black Dog is not an inspirational tale of someone being diagnosed with a mental illness and then coming out better in the end. The start of the piece (and her illness) is quite usefully ambiguous, very few illnesses have a single trigger, or a definitive starting point – and here it seems as though one day the anxiety she had been feeling for a while becomes overwhelming. Aphrodite describes this as a creeping sensation, not unlike Black (Le Gateau Chocolat, diagnosed below) whose work, at the end, finds the audience understanding that mental illness is not discreet, or neat, or over even when one thinks its over. It’s a process, and can be a very long and arduous one.
The form of the music gig makes My Beautiful Black Dog accessible, emotional and enjoyable to watch, but also allows her to play with music and musicality in meaningful ways. Co-performer Quiet Boy’s strange microphone addition makes music sound distant and strange – a metaphor for the disconnect between reality and a reality lived inside depression – and the flight case (normally used for transporting amps and other equipment) provides a provocative and problematic sanctuary for Aphrodite in her lowest of times. As she plays a large number of voice messages from concerned friends and family, the flight case becomes a hiding place, a bank vault, a grave, in quick succession, making her silence even more profoundly felt.
My Beautiful Black Dog excitingly talks honestly about the connection, or the relationship between mental health and drugs and alcohol without being alarmist and judgemental. For Aphrodite, alcohol exasperated her anxiety, and was overall quite dangerous, but she doesn’t seem to make a blanket critique of all drug or alcohol culture. Such a thoughtful approach feels similar to the venues such as Let’s Talk About Gay Sex & Drugs, which support empowering conversation with gay men in London talking about health, drugs, sex and mental health. Aphrodite’s work also expressly links the physical activity of the body with mental health, creating a performance that is incredibly physically taxing and resonant with how the body and mind are deeply intertwined. The show is sweaty for her and her co-performer Quiet Boy, but she thankfully passes us glitter to make ourselves a mess as well. Wearing glitter for the rest of the day was a perfect physical reminder of the reflection on mental health – it’s both annoying (now one has this glitter on them that is hard to get off) and inspiring, knowing that life might be messy and unpredictable, but in and amongst all the drama, one can shine. (BL)
MY BEAUTIFUL BLACK DOG, Brigitte Aphrodite, 7-16 August, Underbelly Cowgate. This venue is not wheelchair accessible.
More about Brigitte Aphrodite:
On Winston Churchill’s Black Dog:
On Let’s Talk About Gay Sex and Drugs:
Le Gateau Chocolat: