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Luna's History of Madness
Published on Friday, 11 May 2012

4 stars

Upstairs at Three and Ten (venue website)
7 May, 9:30pm-10:30pm; 23 May, 10:00pm-11:00pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Suitable for age 18+ only.
 Warning: Contains strong language and nudity.
 World Premiere.
 2-for-1 tickets for Friends of the Fringe members.

If you’d any doubt that Yvo Luna is well-loved in Brighton, you had only to listen to the spontaneous applause which greeted her appearance on the stage.  In this witty, fascinating and remarkably honest talk, delivered along with equally entertaining PowerPoint slides, she talks us through the history of the treatment of madness.  It’s a story that has a specific relevance, since it’s clear she’s also describing her own approach to managing her mental health.

The personal narrative lent a solid structure to the show, which could otherwise have seemed a fairly random collection of largely-historical curiosities.  The connections were occasionally a little tenuous, but that didn’t really matter; we took in shock therapy, water therapy, a little bit of poetry and quite a lot of sex.  With very few exceptions, I always felt I knew where the chatter was going, and there were some genuinely eye-opening observations along the way.  For the first time, among other insights, I feel I understand why well-off people are inexplicably driven to steal.

Most memorable for me – perhaps predictably – were the rude bits.  We gained an unexpected perspective on turn-of-the-century morality, with the discovery that the supposedly-prudish Edwardians saw nothing unusual in devices we now find overtly obscene.  More surprisingly still, Luna’s worked as a prostitute – and her entertaining account of her less-than-successful call-girl career was perfectly pitched, frank enough to be funny yet not so explicit as to alienate the crowd.

And in fact, the whole talk is equally well-judged.  Luna’s own story is certainly worth telling, and there were a few moments which made me wince even as I laughed (listen out for her take on teenage self-harm).  But there’s no hint of self-indulgence or inward catharsis; she’s simply telling us what happened, not expecting us to cry.

As anyone who’s done a PowerPoint presentation will know, it’s not all that easy to keep your words in sync with your slides – so Luna deserves full credit for a well-rehearsed and impeccably-managed session.  Towards the end, she picked up the pace noticeably, rushing through her final slides with barely a pause for breath.  I’d assumed she was running out of time – but in fact she was short by a few minutes, so perhaps it was just nerves.  If so, there’s certainly no need for them.

If there’s one thing I felt was missing, it was a perspective on the big questions which Luna’s story inevitably raised.  We can laugh at the failings of history, but do we do much better in the present day?  Should we view madness as a disorder to be cured – is there really such a thing as “madness” at all?  I’m sure Luna has plenty of insights to share, but among all the facts, she shared very few opinions.  I’d have liked to hear what she has to say; but perhaps the idea’s to plant a seed, and let our own thoughts grow.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.