Byron Vincent doubly mimics his Romantic namesake. Both Byrons are known for their poetry, and both have also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This connection, the audience is assured, is merely coincidence, rather than a grandly ordained plan. There is no bipolar Byronic pattern. Reading patterns and connections into things can signal mental instability, like holding your breath until you pass out, in fear that if you don’t all those you love will die, as a 6 year old Vincent was known to do.
Vincent’s show is about mental health; it is focused on his experience of being defined as insane and being locked up in an institution, forced to endure eternal Adam Sandler films, patronised by a Perspex imprisoned DVD player. It is extremely funny and intensely moving. Something about the sight of a grown man in pyjamas, discussing the paralyzing terror of childhood nightmares is naturally gut wrenching. And yet the audience is constantly prevented from slipping into sympathy, as Vincent undercuts clichés with darkly humorous jibes. Even the discussion of his attempted suicide, delivered lain on the ground, seemingly to avoid the viewers’ gaze, is a source of self-awareness and mockery. When to pull out that anecdote on a date? “It’s like farting in a crowded lift, then pressing the emergency stop button and locking eyes with someone”. But hey, as Vincent taunts, maybe Broadway Baby will call him ‘brave’.
Brave is not what is aimed for – Vincent’s not even seeking ‘normal’. His show is not intending to prove the maxim that the crazy are the sanest ones. Part of the brilliant humour of his piece, and part of its poignancy, is his ready admittance of bouts of utter mental failure. The time mania led to distributing copies of his house keys to the city’s homeless and a relationship breakdown due to inability to leave the house are both topics for this performance. It is intensely personal and unsettling – his experiences are unable to be understood by anyone else, and yet many are wholly relatable. It is very human. The craving to be treated like a person rather than a list of symptoms is surely shared on and off the shrink’s couch.
At the end Byron offers versions of the infamous ink blot test, messily handmade during his performance. This refers to the only audience interaction – when a viewer is asked to say the first word in their head. No answer is wrong, yet the panic across all faces suggests we are not as certain of our mentalities as we seem. This is definitely not an ‘issue play’, but it does help to remind that we are all just weird kids, trying to impress.