Polyphony // Ola Aralepo

There can't be too many shows at the Fringe attempting to pioneer new forms of psychotherapy. A psychotherapist ('among other things'), Ola Aralepo claims his clients' personal narratives are becoming more humorous, even as stand-up comics are drawing more on their own mental health issues to make comedy. So he frames his show as an experiment in 'stand-up therapy'. He is at pains to point out that it is neither stand-up nor therapy; instead, he asks the audience to act as a 'compassionate community', a phrase often used in the context of end-of-life care but here meant to encourage empathy and care as Aralepo tells his story.

He shares events in his life that he believes are responsible for his own neuroses. He offers a Freudian definition of neurosis - patterns of thought or behaviour that everyone has and that we fall in to when emotionally stressed. Key to his experience seems to be Bowlby's attachment theory, which described the importance of early childhood in a person's subsequent mental health, in particular the first relationship a child forms - usually with its mother. Aralepo was born in the UK to Nigerian parents, who placed him with a white foster mother. When he was 6, he met his birth mother for the first time when she took him back to Nigeria. Then, as a young man, his father sent him back to the UK. These experiences led to ingrained self-doubt, a lack of belonging, and what Aralepo describes as voices - a polyphony of voices - undermining his self-confidence.

Attachment theory was further developed by Mary Ainsworth, looking at children's different responses to care-givers and strangers. In Aralepo's story, he is often surrounded by strangers, from his birth parents and the Nigerian classmates who called him a Britico, to his neighbours back in the UK whom he cannot socialise with. And yet here he is now, standing up and sharing his story with an audience of strangers. Is the aim to help us or himself? It is not entirely clear. The show culminates when the two sides of the audience are asked to sing two different phrases from Aralepo's neurotic voices at the same time. Our voices quietly commingle, ending an evening of gentle introspection.

- Michael Regnier


Links relevant to this diagnosis:


Your Personality May Affect Your Vulnerability to Mental Health Problems - British Psychological Society Research Digest

Freud and Defense Mechanisms - Simply Psychology

Freud's Light on the Neurosis of the Mighty (1939) - Guardian 

Bowlby's Attachment Theory - Simply Psychology

Mary Ainsworth and Attachment Theory - Child Development Media

Compassionate Communities Launches Initiative in East London - NSUN Network for Mental Health