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Anna Mann: A Sketch Show for Depressives (Edinburgh Fringe): Review

sketch show for depressives Colin Hoults as Anna Mann in 'Anna Mann: A Sketch Show for Depressives'. Photograph: Courtesy of Berks Nest.

A revelatory hour, Anna Mann: Sketch Show for Depressives is the ultimate panacea, proving laughter really is the best medicine.


Acclaimed actress Anna Mann has been depressed. Upon going to a support group, she ends up leading the charge against depression. Therefore, she has put together this Sketch Show for Depressives to help everyone chase away those black dogs.

Writing

Colin Hoult’s creation, Anna Mann, returns as a guru of group therapy. Hoult’s creation is a paragon of character comedy, not just in the ins and outs of Mann’s personality, but also the intelligence and spontaneity that Hoult pumps into her. An ageing stage and screen actress, Anna’s sudden compassion for black dogs owners (people who suffer from depression, not Afro-Caribbean canine enthusiasts) is much more about milking her ego than providing a service. She’s insecure, sexually frustrated, and quietly on the edge of her own reason: the perfect combination for an unpredictable and completely unhinged show.

The show’s title might cause some who a bit more aware of mental health issues to recoil a little, especially given Anna’s infamy for insincerity and misplaced piety. But Hoult’s rather marvellous grotesque is not mocking depression, but instead is scathingly sending up people’s ignorance and prejudices about mental health, and the baffling bumpf that it spawns. Hoult, through Anna, sends up many of the droll misconceptions that those with mental health issues are often sick of hearing, as well as the absurdities of group/community theatre, as well as a whole load of other theatre and self-help tropes. All is dressed with Hoult’s fantastic wry nihilism and a tip-top talent for blissfully surreal observational comedy.

Anna Mann: A Sketch Show for Depressives is genuinely one of the funniest shows on the fringe: and this comes from someone who actually suffers from depression (I literally took my daily dose of anti-depressants before seeing the show). I even laughed so much that it brought on a coughing fit. Even though legally Anna can’t say she can cure depression, for an hour in the presence of Hoult’s creation, it’s a pretty damn close result.

Direction & Production

Like with any comic show, timing is everything, and the technical side of Anna Mann: A Sketch Show for Depressives is perfectly delivered. Sound and lighting are absolutely on cue, but are also as responsive and spontaneous to Hoult’s tangents and unpredictabilities.

Directorially, the pace is frantic for the most of Anna Mann: A Sketch Show for Depressives. There are some dips in the pace, but it’s only to meticulously and hilariously build to the next explosions of guffaws, giving you a bit of a diaphragm reprieve and also adds some variety to the energy. Yet at the same time, there is plenty of room in the pacing to allow Hoult the opportunity to really respond and play with the audience, which is where some of the most brilliantly comic moments in Anna Mann: A Sketch Show for Depressives are delivered.

Performance

Hoult, as Anna, is absolutely sublime. There are few performers out there who can think so astonishingly comically on their feet in the way Hoult does. Everything that does meander of script is just as insanely funny as the stuff that’s on it. Hoult’s energy as Anna is completely infectious too, which feeds into the maelstrom of giggles he’s in complete comic control of.

Hoult is also supported by two other comic performers. Even though they aren’t the centre of attention that Hoult is, they still have a brilliant comic finesse, presence, and delivery that is as integral to Anna Mann: A Sketch Show for Depressives as Hoult is.

Verdict

Calling all fishy fishes, snakey snakes, and gibbony gibbons, Anna Mann: A Sketch Show for Depressives is the ultimate happy pill.

Anna Mann: A Sketch Show for Depressives plays at Pleasance Courtyard (venue 33), Edinburgh, EH8 9TJ, until 28 August. Tickets are £8 – £10 (concessions available). To book, visit tickets.edfringe.com.