HOME / The Hilarious Comedy About How I Nearly Killed Myself / A Play About How I Nearly Died But Didn't Then Learned A Lot About Life Afterward

Fresh ’n’ Fruity Gallery, upstairs 140 George Street, Dunedin

20/03/2015 - 22/03/2015

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

04/03/2013 - 06/03/2013

BATS Theatre, Wellington

06/08/2015 - 08/08/2015

BATS Theatre (Out-Of-Site) Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington

20/02/2013 - 23/02/2013

Meteor Theatre, 1 Victoria Street, Hamilton

12/10/2013 - 12/10/2013

The Dark Room, Cnr Pitt and Church Street, Palmerston North

20/08/2015 - 22/08/2015

NZ Fringe Festival 2013

Hamilton Fringe 2013

Dunedin Fringe 2015

Auckland Fringe 2013

Production Details

Based on a true story, this one woman play follows Freya Desmarais on her journey to rock bottom and back. This ‘mental’ comedy is coloured by life lessons that apply to anyone who has ever felt unsure of themselves (hint: everybody. So come, ’cause it’s really good and stuff.)

NZ FRINGE 2013 (Wellington)

Wed 20 – Sat 23 February, 9.30pm
VENUE: BATS – Out Of Site 
DURATION: 60 mins
TICKETS: Adult $16, Conc $13 | Fringe Addict: $12
BOOKING: www.bats.co.nz | 04 802 4175


Mon 4 – Wed 6 March, 8.30pm
VENUE: The Basement Studio 
DURATION: 60 mins
TICKETS: Adult $16, Conc $14
BOOKING: www.iticket.co.nz   


Sat 12th Oct 6pm
$15 full, $10 concession,
$25 group of 5
Buy Event Tickets

HOME plays
20 – 22 March, 6.20pm.
Fresh ’n’ Fruity Gallery, upstairs 140 George Street, Dunedin

HOME plays:
6-8 August 2015, 8.30pm
Bats Theatre
1 Kent Terrace, Wellington
BOOKING: www.bats.co.nz | 04 802 4175

HOME plays:
20-22 August 2015, 7:30pm – 8:30pm
The Dark Room
cnr. Church and Pitt Street
Palmerston North 4410
$18 / $14

Theatre , Solo ,

1 hr

Seriously gutsy

Review by Joy Green 21st Aug 2015

Last night, I went to see Frey Demarais’ HOME: The Hilarious Comedy About How I Nearly Killed Myself / A Play About How I Nearly Died But Didn’t Then Learned A Lot About Life Afterward at the Darkroom.  The title is simultaneously a reductive synopsis of the piece and a tad misleading. 

The show is, loosely, an autobiographical examination of a dark period in Freya’s life where suicide – or at least the desire to die – is a preoccupation but there are a number of diversions: how it became clear she was destined to become a performer (hint for parents here: don’t let your four-year-old see recording of a friend’s childbirth); the miraculous nature of her existing at all and the suspicion that gave her that she was ever meant to exist; the person she has become which she describes as genderqueer “camp-man-lady-skater-boychild”; and where she might go from here.

It’s not exactly a play – yes there are places where Desmarais assumes the character of people she has encountered on her journey: Lynne, the Delores Umbridge of WINZ who interrogated her into a panic attack; her two therapists; the largely inept and somewhat narcoleptic Nancy whose chief contribution to her mental health was opening up the option of claiming sickness benefit; and the more productive Kit, who helps her decide what she’d like to be “all limitations aside” – a question with a delightful answer that I won’t spoil here.

There are skype conversations, from the unmade bed that forms the focus of the set, with a recorded voice representing her mother, and snippets of conversation from and with the girl who broke her heart. She also dramatises the results of a Google search on “Ways to kill yourself” (it’s never made entirely clear if an attempt was made, or if circumstances intervened; I’m not sure we, the audience need to know).

But then Desmrais repeatedly steps over the fourth wall out of character and ‘drama’ and into stand-up (though don’t assume that’s all stand-up comedy – there’s confessional in there and if stand-up tragedy exists as a genre there’s some of that too).  The piece is chaotic and sometimes a little incoherent – but that’s an appropriate reflection of the process it’s showing us. A linear narrative isn’t what this is about – there are few straight lines for Freya to follow, and so she weaves in and out of memory, reflection, philosophy and the present, almost, but not quite, randomly.

Some of the comedy is, as the title says, hilarious; some, I found less so – but then I’m well into middle-age and I don’t think I’m the target demographic: the row of students in front of me certainly appreciate all the humour. The confession/tragic elements are raw, real and immediate: it’s impossible not to empathise with Desmarais in these moments.

Hanging your insecurities out for other people to see and sharing your journey in a way that engages your audience so they go with you willingly, even into the painful places, is a seriously gutsy thing to do and keep doing, night after night. You’ve got to admire that kind of openness and courage. And, as the comedy keeps popping up to remind us, you’ve got to laugh.

In the end, the audience is once again engaged to find an ending as we are prompted to pick a path (me, I’ll go with option two, Stephen Fry, Bill Bailey and pumpkin risotto, if that’s okay) and left with a sense that the existence of alternate possibilities is the important – even vital – thing that has been learned and passed on.

One thing I would like to see explored more is the meaning of “Home” in the context of the piece: tantalising hints and potentials for insight are presented in passing and then slid away from, and while it seems to me that what we want home to be, what it is and what it might become sit tacitly at the heart of the piece, it is the one thing that is not looked at as closely as it might be.  Perhaps it’s a theme Freya will return to in another piece – if she does, it’ll certainly be illuminating.

This isn’t always comfortable theatre, it’s not slick, the tech is simple and the effectiveness of the piece relies entirely on the audience connecting with Freya Desmarais and her experience.  Fortunately she makes it easy to do that. 

HOME continues at the Darkroom until Saturday.


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Massively admirable guts and grace

Review by Lena Fransham 07th Aug 2015

As the title of this play suggests, Freya Desmarais tells an autobiographical story of depression and attempted suicide, with a fair bit of self-mockery thrown in. I’m not sure, before turning up at BATS, what to expect of it. How can you honestly convey, on stage, an account of your own deepest despair and at the same time still be funny? It would be a hell of a job to do it well. I imagine trying to keep an audience interested in memories of my own worst moments – tortured soliloquies, loud weeping and slapstick interludes? Er, no thanks.

As it turns out, Home is not about overblown voyeuristic catharsis, nor does it rely on cheap laughs. It is more of a demystifying reflection, with some really funny digressions, about a bloody awful experience. I think Desmarais has done the best thing you can do when you have been through something like this: share your insights with others in a compassionate, straightforward way, liberating some empathic, stigma-free space for people to talk about this stuff. 

The stage is a bedroom strewn with debris and toxic-looking pills; the bed is a nest of grotty, tortured bedclothes. Freya herself is pyjama-clad and pale, as if she hasn’t strayed far from the bed for quite a while. She invites us into an engaging ramble about early experiences, relating her discovery that due to her parents’ reproductive problems, it was only by the remotest chance that she got to be born at all.

This becomes a pivot around which her post-breakup depression begins to turn: the gnawing idea that perhaps she was never meant to be here. The funny obsessive forays into relationship issues and fantasies about Robyn Malcolm illuminate that very human compulsion, when plagued by fundamental self-doubt, to seek fragile validation through other people.

Another lovely moment finds the heroine trying to deal with the inquisitorial Lynn from WINZ – playful lighting effects heightening the agony and absurdity of dealing with patronising bureaucrats while incapacitated with depression (lighting design Uther Dean).

Sometimes the self-deprecating ironies are a little awkward, a gauche self-consciousness in the delivery. It’s like you can see the seams. The protagonist, correspondingly, seems all the more painfully aware of her every movement. The seams are exposed because the portrayal is of a person undoing herself. The effect of this rawness feels honest and real and vulnerable.

I wish this hour-long play were longer; I think it touches tantalisingly on social and universal questions that beg deeper examination, which could be worked into the personal narrative. Perhaps that’s for another story. The closure of this one is understated, beautiful. I have massive admiration for the guts and grace of this performer.


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Home is where both darkness and laughter reside in impressive new play

Review by Laurie Atkinson 07th Aug 2015

For the first 10 minutes of Home I felt the play I was meant to be watching was probably being performed in one of the two other theatres in Bats.

What I was witnessing was a pretty ordinary stand-up routine, not the advertised play with a very long title including the words “hilarious comedy about how I nearly killed myself.”

Then something arresting happened. The stand-up slid gently into a carefully structured solo play “about how I nearly died but didn’t, then learned a lot about life afterwards”. [More


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Deft storytelling and interaction delivered with gusto and honesty

Review by Alison Embleton 21st Mar 2015

First of all, Freya Desmarais is hilarious. Absolute comedy gold. And second, she is very talented. 

Home is billed as a comedy about suicide which may sound callous and miserable, but surprisingly is quite the opposite. Desmarais has spun an eloquent and touching script from her own personal experiences with depression and suicidal thoughts.

Structured as an autobiography, she tells a non-linear tale of her existence (from the very spermtacular beginning) as well as her interactions with a few key people in her life. Home is a brilliant example of exactly what one wishes for in Fringe theatre.

Upon entering the space, audience members are invited to pull up a chair, cushion or squash up on the sofa and enjoy a glass (or mug) of complimentary wine and some delicious nibbles. The set is simple and, one familiar to all of us: a well-worn bedroom complete with old coffee cups, unmade bed and the kind of messiness associated with those distracted by more pressing matters.

Accompanying this is a simple sound and lighting set-up of a laptop, computer speakers and standing lamps. The lamps very effectively light the intimate space, and add a cosiness to the room. The sound however is somewhat lacking. While this is a low-budget travelling show, and so is forgiven for being low-tech (low-tech is often all that is really needed), the speakers are blown out which means much of the spoken audio is hard to hear and so loses some of its poignancy.

After giving some background on her early life and family set up, Desmarais delves into more intense subject matter concerning her struggles with depression and the effect it has on her relationships and other commitments. Her ability to switch from storytelling to addressing the audience in the present is deft, and her quick wit allows her to incorporate spontaneous audience interactions into her piece flawlessly.

Desmarais possesses an unusual talent for getting her audience laughing along with her when she makes light of bleak moments throughout her life but, unlike many others who employ this tactic, she never leads the audience to the uncomfortable realisation of laughing at something cruel and unfortunate in an uneasy way. You never feel tricked by her comedy into making a mockery of serious issues at the expense of realising your own biases. While that may sound complex, it’s a very clear feeling when you experience it as an audience member.

I cannot praise Desmarais highly enough for tackling this kind of subject matter in such an inclusive and matter-of-fact way.  

That being said, one of the very few criticisms I have of the script itself is that it seems as though Desmarais ultimately dodges the actual suicide portion of her story. We hear about her googling methods and bleakly laughing at her own inability to succeed with certain approaches, and then skip almost directly to her returning home to her parents.

While there is technically no need to know whether there was an actual attempt to take her own life or not, it is addressed point-blank right there in the title, and she makes a very sincere and admirable effort to be open and honest throughout the rest of the performance. So her seeming to dodge the details and the immediate aftermath comes across as somewhat disingenuous, in contrast with the rest of her production.

However, this does not detract from the overall effect of her work, and may in fact stem from a desire to not romanticise suicide. She talks about sex, mental illness, and relationships of all kinds with the openness that the subjects deserve (and are unfortunately rarely given) and is not afraid to admit her own faults.

Home is a tight piece of writing, and is delivered with gusto and honesty by a young woman who is at the beginning of a very promising career. Freya Desmarais is definitely one to watch.


Freya Desmarais March 21st, 2015

Hi! Thanks for the review and for the lovely kind words! 

Just to be clear I directed, designed and produced this incarnation of the play, and 'Hungry Mile Theatre' doesn't exist anymore. 

To clarify, there was no suicide attempt to theatricalise - I didn't actually try, I just thought very very seriously about it, and began to plan it. That said I'm aware that the onus is on me to make that really clear - so thanks for the feedback!

Freya : )

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Honest, brave and captivating

Review by Liza Kire 14th Oct 2013

Home/The hilarious comedy about how I nearly died* is the real life journey of writer/performer Freya Desmarais and her struggles with depression and how her ongoing battle continues.

In an intimate setting at The Meteor in Hamilton, what appears to be someone’s room is set up. One person awaits your arrival for what you expect to be a comedy about a person with a hilarious story about how they nearly died in some random and unusual way.

I am definitely shocked, when I first arrive, to learn that the show is going to touch on subjects such as depression and being homosexual and that there will be sexual references and also a lot of swearing.

Perhaps the most shocking revelation is that this is going to be a show about a young girl and her personal experience with attempted suicide. I mean, when one actually thinks about any of those subjects there is no way in the world that someone would find any of these things funny… right? 

*[Note the name change from the original: HOME / The Hilarious Comedy About How I Nearly Killed Myself … – ed.]

Enter Freya Desmarais: a young writer who performs this one woman show with a fierce  and direct approach and with the most impeccable comedic timing. Just when she takes you to the deepest and darkest corners of her experiences she brings you right out of it in an instant, with something witty or really quite dry or so very funny.

She starts off putting people in a giggly mood talking about things such as ‘special cuddles’ and how parents fall short with ‘the sex talk’. She tells and acts out stories of embarrassing (for others) childhood behaviour.

There are awkward moments when a vibrator is introduced into the show and all of a sudden the lights go down and … (spoiler averted).  

It was after falling in love with another girl that Freya started to think nobody would want her and the world would be better off without her in it. 

Using recordings of conversations between her and her mother about how she’s feeling from day to day, as well as photos, Desmarais talks you through her experiences and how she coped and dealt with each of them.  

Just as you think that you’re going to cry listening to her talk about how she considered ending it all, she explains how she read through the script with her mum and relates her mother’s surprising – an hilarious – reaction.

You get to experience her counselling sessions with the different therapists she had and hear how bad it can sometimes get when one is depressed, which I think shows that she has got some real ‘balls’ to be able to talk about such a taboo subject and at the same time have a laugh about it. 

I appreciate that she is able to let the audience get close to the feelings she experienced simply by leaving the room for a few minutes, or making everyone sit in complete silence while staring at a photo.  

Desmarais’ performance is honest, brave and executed with a captivating commitment.


For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


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Deeply frank self-portrait a generous and oddly entertaining gift

Review by Nik Smythe 05th Mar 2013

The title reads like the basic plot points of a typical disease-of-the-week movie.  Singing along to Jennifer Rush, Freya Madelaine Eng Desmarais warmly greets us as we cross through her onstage bedroom to our seats.  There’s a curious ambiguity in the black rings around her eyes: physical abuse, lack of sleep, or just too much make-up? 

When we’re all in, she begins with an apology for the title giving the whole story away.  Freya’s sardonic, angst-based wit is at first unnerving in tone and manner as she exposes the glaring omissions in her mother’s classic true-love-and-biology explanation of what ‘a sex’ is. 

The production values are appropriately lo-fi, with a set constructed mainly of cardboard boxes adorned with colourful family photos, and a penetrating soundtrack in which it’s difficult to decide which is more grating: the dull grinding noises that underpin Freya’s increasing mental desperation, or the melodramatic 80s power ballads. 

Self professed ‘gender queer’ (which apparently at least in part is like being a drag queen trapped in a woman’s body with the mind of a ten year old skater boy), she’s here to tell us what it’s like to become suicidal: “Spoiler alert: it’s shit!”

As the deeply frank self-portrait continues, her natural warmth and humour start to penetrate her cynical veil, seemingly in spite of herself.  Nevertheless, it’s telling that she chooses to interpret the circumstances of her one-in-a-million miracle conception and birth to mean she “is not meant to be here”, even though it would be equally – if not more – logical to conclude the opposite.

Even before her psychotherapist enquires what Freya wants for her life, all limitations aside, and she replies that she wants to be Ricky Gervais, I’d already detected a passing resemblance in both her looks and manner to the iconic, warts-and-all-comedian.

While events such as the cataclysmic break-up with the love of her life are cited as catalysts to her spiral of self-destruction, it’s not held directly to blame. The nature of depression is that it’s often there for no reason, and then looks for reasons to justify itself.  Ultimately the personal catharsis she achieves through sharing the wretched tale of the absolute worst point of her young life is shared by her captive audience; anyone can relate to that gnawing sense of futility. 

In the hands of a more self-conscious or less capable performer, Home … may have been nothing more than painful, self-indulgent post-teen angst trip.  Instead it is a generous and oddly entertaining gift. 


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Brave generosity produces unique comedy

Review by John Smythe 21st Feb 2013

“Comedy is truth and pain” according to veteran US sitcom scriptwriter Jon Vorhaus (The Comic Toolbox). This explains how Freya Desmarais’ extraordinarily insightful play, masquerading as a casual chat about how she nearly killed herself but didn’t, comes to be so funny.

The gift of truth is not to be underestimated and Desmarais is very generous with hers.

In August 2011 her Hungry Mile Theatre mounted 6 Little Plays 4 Christchurch, of which she wrote one: The Girls. “They are in a waiting room betwixt the portals of Heaven and Hell,” I wrote in my review. “Motor-mouth Isobel … has topped herself while sardonic Jacqueline … met her accidental fate on the piste. And now they have to help him [an enigmatic male character] help humankind … Whimsical.”  

Desmarais first addressed the existential angst of ‘who/what/why am I?’ with There Is So Much To Live For six months earlier, in the 2011 Fringe. My review for that included: “Underlying all, inherent in the title and the publicity image, is the unspoken thought that the ultimate opt-out may sometimes arise as a possible answer … And anyone caught in that vortex can only find strength in this play’s recognition of that truth.” 

Yet in March 2012, Freya Desmarais did attempt “the ultimate opt-out”. Her vivid recollection of how she felt she was crumbling into emptiness, unable to wrestle any longer with “how to be”, is presented in such a way that we cannot dismiss its profound honesty.

Nor can we avoid the strong empathy the play allows us with her parents (who were in the opening night audience) – her mother especially, voiced in the play by Jane Waddell. What would we do if this was our adult child crying for help from a distant city?

So how does such material generate a comedy? I’m tempted to say it just does; go and see for yourself. Analysing humour can be counter-productive. But maybe some sense of what is in store should go on the record.

Carboard boxes and a bed clutter the stage; props and aids to the storytelling are secreted within, beneath and behind. Desmarais is present as we arrive, quietly watchful … The pacing and placing director / designer Penny Lawrence brings to the work overall is subtly wrought.

The silent opening challenges us: what are we expecting? A witty stroll through formative moments in Freya’s childhood, mostly regarding sex and birth, is what we get: a truly funny warm up. Then comes the dark stuff about a broken relationship; about loving so hard it hurts …

The specifics of how she came to be conceived are so unusual they cannot have been made up (indeed her mother confirms, later, that every part of this ‘show-and-tell’ is true). It’s a prime example of stuff that just is the way it is, and to which we, being human, are compelled to attribute either positive or negative meaning. And this is just one of the ways Desmarais draws us into her story and commands our empathy.  

Her fantasies about Cheryl West from Outrageous Fortune and her future career ambitions are obviously unrealistic. Has she been hijacked, perhaps, by the mantra that we can do or be whatever we want? Where does responsibility lie – for the circumstances then for the solutions?

Encounters with counsellors are revealing in more ways than one and her account of an interview with Lynn from WINZ trying to comprehend the incomes earned in theatre is worth the price of admission alone.

The certificate she took to WINZ calls her condition ‘anxiety disorder’. And you don’t have to be certifiable to recognise it as a human condition; a ‘there but for the grace of (whatever higher power you may believe in, or not) go I’ condition.

When the question arises of how to end the play, Desmarais plays ‘pick a path’ with us: yet another way of ensuring we are not passive observers just perving on her life and its progress so far. It’s about us as much as her.

Her demeanour as a performer is remarkably relaxed given the territory she traverses. There is not the slightest whiff of self-indulgence in the performance even though it briefly depicts the all-consuming pit of despair that can so easily rob us of rational perspective. Nor does it come over as therapy. She has moved on and this is for us.

In its own unique way, HOME: The Hilarious Comedy About How I Nearly Killed Myself / A Play About How I Nearly Died But Didn’t Then Learned A Lot About Life Afterward ticks all the boxes for comedy-of-anguish-and-insight, thanks to the brave generosity of its highly intelligent and talented creator.

There are three more shows in Wellington then, early in March, a three-night season in Auckland. Treat yourselves.


nik smythe March 5th, 2013

I'm fond of Mel Brooks' take on the matter:  "Tragedy is when I cut my finger.  Comedy is when I walk into an open sewer and die."

Simon Taylor February 22nd, 2013

"Comedy is tragedy plus time."

- Carol Burnett

John Smythe February 21st, 2013

I have been reminded of another adage that is also highly applicable here: Comedy is tragedy separated by time and space. Does anyone know who said that first? 

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