Thinking pop culture

Thinking pop culture

Blind-buying into the theatre of love

The phrase “blind-buy” is common among perfume enthusiasts. A fragrance gets purchased without spritzing or sniffing, bought blindly based on text: marketing copy perhaps, or gushy fan reviews.

I take smells too seriously for this kind of malarkey. But I did recently blind-buy theatre tickets.

A man was in town. A man who turned up wearing cufflinks that I’d bought him five years prior. The kind of man who after a lot of years and many, many kilometres can sit in a bar and jibe that a waiter looks like Mark Oliver Everett because he knows I’ll understand.

That kind of man.

Eels “I’m Going to Stop Pretending I Didn’t Break Your Heart”, 2005.

So I searched by date, by location, relinquished my credit card details. Because cinema - because theatre - is what you do when you’re petrified of what great or gruesome things might transpire if you opt for a sloshy dinner.

MTC’s staging of Lucy Prebble’s play The Effect.

Two mid-20s strangers - psychology student Connie (Zahra Newman) and the wanderlusty Tristan (Nathaniel Dean) - volunteer for an anti-depressant drug trial.

Connie (Zahra Newman) and Tristan (Nathaniel Dean), urine samples in hand. Jeff Busby / MTC

A play about love, about depression. A play that I bought to see with a man who, surprise, surprise, I had once very, very much loved and who once upon a time had made me very, very… Hmm. I’ll return to this bit later.

Needless to say, as far as blind-buys go, the gods of melancholia were truly guiding this one.

So when lip-biting and cheek-chewing failed to thwart tears, I spent much of the play deploying my oft-practiced/seldom-effective fingertip-blotting technique to spare my eye make-up.

The play asks questions about depression and the efficacy of medication. About whether the kind of drugs that can evoke positive feelings - possibly even love feelings - are a good thing. About the veracity of the sentiments conjured under such… head tweaks.

Connie (Zahra Newman), Dr James (Sigrid Thornton) and Tristan (Nathaniel Dean). Jeff Busby / MTC

The cufflinked man seated on my left - combined with the fact that I was at the point in my menstrual cycle where everything is inexplicably and epically tragic - dictated that my interest in the play centred on the link between love and depression. About whether they’re both just symptoms of chemical imbalances or if in fact they feed each other in some revolting orgiastic frenzy.

For me, the “have you ever been in love?” question is relatively impossible to answer. If I have, then the hellride has only been ridden twice. The second time was with Cufflinks. If so, then it was completely diabolical both times and hurt far worse than any pleasures proffered. If not, then handsomely broody men have, purely coincidentally, just happened to be around to decorate episodes of my mental illness. At least they bought their guitars.

Truth be told, I’ve never felt any connection to the word depression. Trouble getting out of bed? Low energy? Pfft! I need to bloody get out of bed to get more tissues. And there’s never too little energy for racking sobs.

Melodrama aside, I’ve truly never thought of myself as having been depressed. I do however, feel that I am extremely well versed in melancholy. And in my experience melancholy is inextricably linked to love.

Along the lines of the Confucian journey of revenge/digging two graves thing, at 34-years-old I know that if I go down a romantic path then tissues and waterproof mascara need to be purchased as quickly as the condoms.

Be it melancholy as in my case or depression as focused on in the play, I’m fascinated by the question of cause. For Dr James (Sigrid Thornton) in The Effect, she’s a neuro-scientist battling depression and centres her blame for it squarely on a long-ago liaison with a colleague, Dr Toby (William McInnes). Dr Toby, perhaps unsurprisingly, thinks she’s mad. Quite literally. Curable, sure, but mad.

For Dr Toby, depression is a disease of the head. Pills scan be prescribed, mental maladies can be overcome. If one is depressed then they are sick but they can get better.

Dr Toby (William McInnes) and Dr James (Sigrid Thornton). Jeff Busby / MTC

So does love - or, perhaps more poignantly, do loved ones - cause sadness? Cause depression?

Everything in life - who we are, how we feel, what we think - is shaped, I suspect, by biology as much as it is by who we spend time with, what we choose to read and watch and listen to.

But are loved ones more of an influence than other factors? More influential, say, than a private life tendency to catastrophise? More influential than a penchant for music-to-slit-your-wrists by?

Is it any surprise that the lofty heights of limerence has a flipside of wretched grief and pain at its loss?

Such questions, of course, are bigger than any 878 word think piece. Equally, they’re much more complicated than any two-hour play.

Cufflinks and I agreed that I’d blind bought us something pretty damn fabulous. I am however, less settled on who I’m blaming for my puffy eyes three days on.

Sigrid Thornton on “The Effect” - MTC Season 2014 Launch.

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