Sophia Del Pizzo is testing herself, but in doing so she’s testing us as well. Anxiety is something that sits on your shoulder, in your head, telling you not to put yourself out there. It stops Sophia from all sorts of activities – going into Argos (who doesn’t feel a sense of impending doom when you wander in there?) and threesomes. But not a comedy show, thank goodness. She named her anxiety Assmonkey, so let’s have a chat with it.

Assmonkey: In Conversation is one of these homegrown style of comedy narratives, with some character work showcasing Del Pizzo’s versatility and a bit of multimedia to break up the action. It’s a show that cannot possibly offend, both because of Del Pizzo’s natural likeability and her somewhat self-deprecating attitude. As someone who suffers with mental health problems, I recognise the scent of self-sabotage in the air, telling you that you’re not good enough or squandering opportunities with a niggling voice that you can’t quite shake. Del Pizzo pushes through that, channelling it into her comedy, and it works.

Del Pizzo has an antsy, somewhat jumpy style that suits this type of show. It’s off-putting at first, but then becomes a way to connect with her message – Assmonkey is a purposeful production about being imperfect. We meet other characters that inhabit her mental space – the Jennifer Saunders inspired Penelope, who freestyles with a gangsta flair; Lorraine Kelly, who moves from chat show host to chat show therapist with a humorous parody of the Rorschach (inkblot) test. The best by far is the Australian yoga instructor, spouting new age mantras like they’re going out of style. But we’re in, we do a tree pose and meditate with her, laughing at the absurdity of it all while buying into the message of positivity.

It’s the moments when Del Pizzo is herself that we see her. She reads out a letter from her GP that informs of her mental health issues – no holds barred. She chats to us about the effects of booze and drugs – we feel her personal experience that “tripping balls can fuck shit up”. The characters are amusing, if sometimes under-developed, but it’s the truth in Del Pizzo herself that we connect with. The comedy is there to emphasise the message.

There are lots of shows about mental health going around the fringe at present. Of course, that’s not a bad thing – it’s wonderful to open up honest, real conversations about a serious problem we currently suffer from in society. Del Pizzo’s Assmonkey is a strong contribution to the conversation – in a similar way to Georgie Morrell’s work, Del Pizzo pokes fun at herself to allow us to laugh with her. But she also reminds us, if nothing else, that we are not alone.

 

 

★★★☆☆

Assmonkey: In Conversation runs until 11 February 2018 as part of the VAULT Festival. For further information, please visit the venue website.

Click here for an interview with writer and performer Sophia Del Pizzo.