No Miracles Here features a live band and much dancing, as it explores protagonist Ray’s struggles with depression. Feeling like he can’t go on as he is – and inspired by his late dad’s tales of Northern Soul dance marathons – he sets out for one of these almost-mythical competitions.
It’s a promising premise. The metaphor is sketched out clearly; the dance competition is a marathon, so it’s about endurance, which is more important than technique. The rules are simple: keep moving and don’t let your knees hit the floor. If you don't know the steps, find your own.
A song that describes Ray’s depression with a list of things he isn’t doing is excellent; it captures the sense that, because it’s so hard for a sufferer to express their feelings, it’s easier to describe a series of negatives. But a later command that we should “believe us when we tell you” Ray is depressed doesn’t ring true. Theatre must show, not tell; the company must build empathy for Ray, and not rely on instruction, his pallid demeanour, or the rest of his band mocking him for being a “charisma-free zone”.
The different people Ray encounters on the dance floor neatly illustrate some of the attitudes faced by those with depression. Clyde doesn’t think he has it in him; Rosa doesn’t think he’s a winner; but Margot offers simple friendship and, in one of the more touching scenes, refuses to go away. But he can’t connect with Ida, who appears to be a fellow sufferer.
I liked Ray’s encounters with a man waiting outside the club for his portrait to be painted. Played by the charismatic Andrew Bleakley, this character introduces a surreal element, discoursing on neurotransmitters and dopamine – nicely illustrating how, even though we know that a lot of depression is down to chemical malfunctioning, it’s impossible to comprehend that when you’re suffering. He also brings the hope that is so necessary to survival.
There are niggles though, the most significant being in how the energy expended contrasts with the listlessness that is most people’s experience of depression. I think this is the crux of my discomfiture with the show; the music and dancing are fantastic and entertaining, but just at this point, the metaphor of a dance marathon seems stretched too far. When you're depressed, maintaining your bounce and rhythm seems impossible. While there's a level on which this extended metaphor makes sense, No Miracles Here doesn’t quite manage to pull it off. The programme lists Associate, Movement and Musical direction alongside the devising company; perhaps it needs a single vision to fulfil the show’s promise.