There is no more fitting venue for a show about agoraphobia than Pleasance Courtyard’s Cellar. Down some dark stairs, into an even darker room with the song ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ blasting from the speakers, the venue is neither open, nor public. Naomi Petersen’s character comedy depicts the story of an agoraphobic woman who has been living in a theatre for a year, triggered by watching a particularly traumatic Edinburgh Fringe show in the self-same venue.
The show is not entirely fictional, drawing on Petersen’s own experience of anxiety, something which she says has been slightly alleviated since she entered the world of comedy and improv. She hopes that by addressing these issues onstage in a light hearted manner, discussions of mental health will become more prominent in all areas of society.
The show is certainly light hearted and fun, punctuated with more emotional moments; it is during these flashes of feeling that Petersen really shines. The intimate setting of the Cellar means that when Petersen gets it right, it really works, and her proximity to the audience adds to the story telling element of her performance. However, the balance between the theatricality of her performance and the poignant real life experiences she talks about isn’t quite right. Moving from touching moments of honesty to an over the top rendition of a fictional Fringe show called ‘Slaughter at Pizza Express’ requires the jokes to completely hit the mark in order to get the audience back in the mood for comedy. When this doesn’t go quite right, the show feels a bit uncomfortable, with the manic acting clashing with the quiet moments of introspection.
Petersen’s aim of bringing the discussion about mental health to the forefront is commendable, and her debut show is certainly a substantial step in the right direction. For now, the actual content of the show fails to be entirely convincing, and detracts from the more successful moments of introspection.