Originally conceived in 2018, the House of Blakewell’s Everything Is Absolutely Fine is a fitting show to usher in theatre for 2021 and prescient in the way it broaches mental health issues. Performed by Alice Keedwell and Harry Blake, the comedy musical revolves around an occupational therapist who helps the elderly and the disabled navigate physical and mental health hurdles, before they’re able to lead autonomous lives at home. Such a role requires someone who is naturally empathetic with people and in this capacity, “Alice” excels.
Early on we see how the powers-that-be are constantly pushing for more hospital beds, while Alice wants to make sure those under her care won’t suffer relapses and require further hospitalisation. However, her concerns fall on deaf ears, leaving her ‘between a rock and a hard place’. Working in a smaller town like Berkhamsted, things were meant to be different…
Throughout the show, Alice is plagued by the perennial presence of ‘Anxiety’ (voiced by Blake). Like many people, Alice’s ‘inner voice’ is her own severest critic, and in any given situation, will view circumstances through a negative prism. Through Blake’s deliberate deadpan delivery, Anxiety’s self-deprecating words (which everyone has said from time to time) take on a humorous, scene-stealing quality. But as we see later on, Anxiety’s isn’t a ‘malignant’ presence – his predisposition stems not from self-loathing, but keeping Alice ‘safe’.
As “Alice”, Keedwell endears herself to the audience with the character’s vulnerability and emotional sensitivity. Paradoxically, Alice’s capacity to care is a ‘doubled-edge sword’, as much of her time is spent thinking about the opinion of others and being overly harsh on herself. Her ‘overthinking’ at times leads to unrealistic assumptions about others, such as with Sarah the ‘self-assured’ woman she sees around regularly and who seems to be the complete opposite of Alice.
By ‘connecting the dots’, we can see that the issues and fears at Alice’s workplace ‘bleed through’ into her everyday life. Objectively, if she had no emotional connection to her patients, it would save her a lot of long-term anxiety, However, it is precisely her empathy that helps her to anticipate potential problems. Like many in the caring professions, it’s the vocation that has ‘chosen’ Alice, rather than the other way around…
As a musical, Everything Is Absolutely Fine is the perfect marriage of concept, lyrics and music. The fact that it’s premiered after the year-long Covid epidemic gives it an extra layer of meaning, as people now have to navigate their anxiety after social distancing for so long. Also, Alice’s relocation to a suburban area and ‘starting again’ mirrors the experience of many who have made the exodus from London over the past year or had to make other life-changing choices.
© Michael Davis 2021
Written by Alice Keedwell
Music and Lyrics by Harry Blake
Directed by Valentina Ceschi
Everything Is Absolutely Fine was developed with The Lowry, Salford. The show was performed at the North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford and broadcast live online on 15th May.