REVIEW: I Am Seaweed by Cheryl Ho – Melbourne Fringe

Sheryl with an “S” is seaweed, which starts with a “sea”. Sometimes she feels like the stuff that can strangle boat propellers and sometimes she can rid the earth of carbon dioxide.

Even in her Slay Everyday Era – even her t-shirt says “SEE” – there are moments in her day when she wants to rip all her skin off and beat her head against the wall.

She’s an actor and a voice over artist and a teacher and sometimes she has to make up an excuse for one boss to be able to make another one happy. She’s rushing from place to place, missing buses over and over but somehow willing herself to keep smiling. Those kids aren’t going to teach themselves. She has to stay positive in all things or otherwise she’ll be a failure. She already fails to live up to her mother’s expectations and she can’t help comparing herself to siblings and cousins.

But it’s not just the freelance life and gig economy that’s getting Sheryl down. She has anxiety and she’s decided to start therapy. But she’s not even sure if she’s doing that for the right reasons. She’s  worried about disappointing her therapist and thinks all she really needs to do is beat the system and level up as a human.

I Am Seaweed is thoughtfully chaotic. We get to see into Sheryl’s mind because writer and performer Cheryl Ho can vacillate wildly between chirpy and frantic, between smiling and scared. Her energy drags us along through her daily life, illuminated by text messages and an internal monologue that sometimes turns into motivational images projected on the back wall. We’re smiling along with her until we realise she’s breaking down inside and the emotion hits with a wallop.

Comedy always makes drama easier to swallow, but Cheryl Ho wisely doesn’t allow the humour to devalue the strain of Sheryl’s situation. It’s a one-woman show filled with clever monologues, sarcastic observations and that recurring imagery of seaweed – which is essential to life on earth but always looks so messy and discarded.

Designers Vick Low and Rachel Lee illuminate the largely empty Theatre Works space without the show ever feeling lost in all that inky blackness. Two white tables, dressed with colourful beach detritus and one chair is all Cheryl has to work with – while chasing an erratic spotlight which really helped to dial up the tension and anxiety.

I Am Seaweed is a smart show and Cheryl/Sheryl gets the audience on side from minute one and doesn’t let go for an hour. It’s a thrill but with a lot to say about mental health and personal reflection and why people with the biggest grins might hide the biggest sadness.

I Am Seaweed is on at Melbourne Fringe until Oct 14th.