REVIEW BY STEVE COOKE
Flexing her well-toned acting, comedy, dancing and singing muscles Sue Devaney took us on an intense, moving, hilarious and enlightening ride on the addiction roller-coaster in ‘Didn’t You Used To Be somebody? [Commissioned for Recoverist Month* by Portraits of Recovery and developed in partnership with HOME.] Sue’s ‘work-in-progress’ collaboration with the wonderful Jason Yates.
Their creation, Jessie Jackson, is ‘a woman of a certain age with an insatiable appetite for all things bright and beautiful and off the scale bad’. We experience her highs and lows through six seamless scenes including bullying at school, relationship with dad, fame through a TV reality show, encounter with weight watchers and a full-blown breakdown. The audience are drawn into her world of addiction and experience the impact of the triggers and emotional chaos that is addiction.
The venue fittingly was the Gallery at HOME Manchester, currently the home of the Balmy Army* Space.
The sell-out audience [I am reliably informed could have sold out at least 4x] included people in recovery, supporters of people in recovery, recoverists [recovery + activist] as well as actors and media types.
The standing ovation at the end of the performance was long and enthusiastic perfectly summed up by one of the Corrie Actors in the audience, “Sue Devaney was phenomenal and her performance nothing short of outstanding!”
The after-show Q&A included testimony of resonating personal experiences and constructive criticism alongside much heartfelt support for this project and its potential impact on those directly affected by addiction and across the wider community.
To know that your personal experiences are common to many others, that you are not alone, can be vital to people suffering from addiction as they ride the recovery train.
For the wider community to have access to the chaotic inner lives of addicts can promote greater understanding and wider empathy.
‘Didn’t You Used To Be Somebody’ achieves all the above and will hopefully continue to develop into a vehicle for greater awareness and understanding.
Sue Devaney is at the peak of her considerable powers and is driven by her desire to ‘lay addiction bare’ for the benefit of us all.
This remarkable show should be seen by as many people as possible across the whole of the UK.
Huge thanks to Sue and Jason for this vital creation.
I shall eagerly follow its development and share its progress with you all.
* The Balmy Army project is a movement for youth-led mental health activating the power of art and activism. Over the past year young people, artists, madpride organisers, radical dreamers, disability justice doers and everyone else trying to cope have come together with the common aim of striving for Mental health support that works. They have been busy sharing poetry, making placards, activating social media takeovers and mass acts of civil disobedience, in fact creating a space where anything (safe) can happen, where the Balmy Army can play, plan protests, give performances and even print ‘Madidas’ t-shirts. I urge you to find time to experience Balmy Army for yourselves - it’s free to drop into the Balmy Army's space at HOME.
* Recoverist Month celebrates the aspirational hopes, desires, fears, and dreams of Greater Manchester, people, and communities in recovery from addiction. Lived experience is centre stage, promoting positive health messaging and framing recovery as a viable lifestyle choice.Recoverist Month September 2023. An initiative led by Portraits of Recovery www.portraitsofrecovery.org.uk