Mockingbird is a darkly comedic family history, of sorts. Energetic counsellor and narrator Tina dances and sways her way through four generations of her family, from her great-grandmother to herself. Her ancestor’s storylines adopts a similar flow: woman meets man, woman gives birth, woman gets locked away for poor mental health. And not just any condition – each woman is diagnosed with postpartum affective disorder (PPD), a mood disorder that can closely follow giving birth.
Writer and lead actor Lisa Brickell developed the script of Mockingbird in consultation with New Zealand’s Changing Minds organisation, which seeks to educate and reduce stigma around mental health. Consequently, the mission of Mockingbird is very clear in the way it challenges preconceptions and assumptions about women’s health in particular. In a world that’s quick to dismiss women as being overly emotional, PPD is an issue both poorly understood and rarely discussed. Many of Tina’s ancestors are dragged away to the nuthouse for traumatic electroshock therapy when all they’re experiencing is a crippling lack of support.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Mockingbird makes a point of injecting ample comedy into what could otherwise be an extremely somber production. Both Lisa Brickell and her accompanist (and occasional voice-in-the-back-of-her-head) Siri Embla are trained clowns who pull off wonderful impressions and burst into humorous songs with plenty of back-and-forth. While there are many sobering moments, the overall tone is light, helping the audience digest the heavy matter at its heart.
Mockingbird is a clever, sensitive exploration of mental health. Funny and moving, it sheds light on an issue that affects many people but remains taboo even in our modern society.