Motivational speaker Julia takes to the stage with a cartwheel, a song and a handful of inspirational whoops. Emilie Hetland’s manic character is immediately recognisable as any number of self-proclaimed wellness experts or life coaches, professing right off the bat that: ‘depression is cancelled!’
Julia is equipped with her Five Commandments for a Better Life, because we all know all you need to get over your mental illness is a listicle designed to think yourself happy again. The humour here is dark and absolutely on the nose; Julia doles out advice like: ‘Smile. You look prettier when you smile’, ‘You don’t have to be happy; I already have your money’, and ‘I don’t care about your problems. Plenty of people died in the holocaust.’
Of course, there’s a tragic backstory. Flitting between the present-day motivational event and Julia’s teen years, we see a childhood marred by a drug-addicted mother obsessed with Sweden’s Eurovision entry, and a toxic online relationship with a boy who encourages Julia to partake in mutual self-harm via video chat.
The Five Commandments for a Better Life are a searing satire of the contemporary wellness industry – all Instagram influencers, life hacks and insincerity. Platitudes abound: ‘Stay focused.’ ‘Pull yourself together.’ ‘Man up.’ ‘Things can always be worse.’ Hetland captures that fine line trodden by people jumping on the mental illness bandwagon: being seen to offer advice, but never actually doing anything concrete to help or extend this advice past the kind of faux-inspirational quotes you find printed on teabags and sanitary products. Because of this, A Short Cut to Happiness is often jarring, given how intense both sides of the spectrum are: Julia’s high-energy dismissal of mental illness versus her very real experiences with tragedy.
It takes a lot of energy to display this juxtaposition and Hetland doesn’t let off for a second, whether it’s the aggressiveness of her motivational speaker or the dark violence of her childhood self. A Short Cut to Happiness is definitely continuing a conversation that needs to be continued as it looks at how unwell the wellness industry actually is.
A Short Cut to Happiness, Zoo Playground, until Mon 26 Aug (not 19), 5.45pm, £10 (£9)