Sam Underwood has led an eventful life. As an actor he’s regularly appeared in some very well-known TV programmes, but on a personal level he has also over the years had to deal with mental health issues – and taken prescription drugs that have had a hit-and-miss success rate. Through it all though, he’s had the support of his wife. This synopsis forms the basis of his autobiographical Losing Days. In recent years, one album has spoken to him regarding relationships and his state of mind – Frank Turner’s Tape Deck Heart. So much so in fact, that he performs songs from this album with fellow actor-musician Maks Kubis, in between the anecdotal segments of the show.
From the get-go, Underwood is very candid about his ‘journey’. By a twist of fate, his first brush with a bipolar disorder is with an ex-girlfriend. Unperturbed by the admission about her own mental health, he naively thinks that with a bit of support from himself, that this won’t be an issue in the long term. However, what he hasn’t counted on is that the escalating arguments as a result of the illness will be a catalyst for his own mental health issues, oscillating between extreme ‘lows’ and ‘highs’.
Throughout the show, Underwood and Kubis hold up pieces of cardboard that denote the timescale of events: “Day 6,203” etc. It’s evocative of 2008’s The Incredible Hulk film with its ‘Days Without Incident’, and Underwood does from time to time make comparisons between this and his own days of involuntary loss of control. The other pieces of cardboard that are used throughout the show denote places of significance and phrases used throughout Underwood’s life. In the case of his own father, the quote “The Underwood men are weak” hints at a family legacy, though others when questioned deny mood disorders running in the family.
For Underwood, (like most people) having the self-awareness of one’s behaviour and feelings is half the battle, and he’s the first to admit Bryony Kimmings’ Fake It ‘Til You Make It played a big part in him acknowledging that he “needed to talk.” However, knowing one has a problem isn’t enough. Who would have the patience to stick with him when his bipolar disorder resurfaces time and time again? Cue Valorie Curry…
An American actress of some renown, Underwood works with Curry and in her company he does his damnedest to stay on an even keel. However, after becoming an item, the cracks begin to appear and Curry insists that they undertake counselling. Eventually this leads to individual psychiatric help for Underwood. It’s a well-known fact that for couples where one party has mood disorders, the probability of them staying together is extremely thin. Not only does Curry stick with Underwood, she proposes to him and they perform at Edinburgh together. Hearing Underwood recall all the times that Curry stood by him through thick and thin, the audience is left with no doubt in their minds that she is the reason Underwood is ‘doing so well’ today and that this show is as much of ode to her as it is a chronicle of living with manic depression year in, year out.
© Michael Davis 2017
Losing Day runs at New Town Theatre (Venue 7), Freemasons’ Hall, George Street, Edinburgh EH2 3DH until 27th August (21:40 – 1 hour 10 minutes).