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Strawberry Starburst

26 January 2018

Coming Unstuck

Strawberry Starburst

by Bram Davidovich

Kryptonite Theatre Company, The Vaults, Waterloo until 28th January

Review by Georgia Renwick

Do you travel through Waterloo station every day? You may not be aware but some of the best new theatre is being made under your feet, right now!   Vault Festival is back for another year, and it’s bigger than ever. Over 300 productions will take place in and around The Vaults, in the arches under Waterloo station, between now and the middle of March. Over the past six years  Vault Festival has garnered a reputation for programming work that questions, that challenges, that tells us something new, that explores alternative perspectives. Strawberry Starburst fits the bill.

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Shez is sixteen. From a happy childhood, she hit her teens and found her life started to unravel. As she grapples with her relationship with her Mum, her Dad, and her prickly-faced boyfriend, how can she forge an identity of her own? The answer she comes to means she can no longer enjoy her favourite strawberry Starburst in the same way.

Strawberry Starburst tells a story you may think you already know. A teenage girl growing up; girl encounters family problems, girl encounters relationship problems, girl battles demons… But every generation faces the challenges of adolescence in new guises which is why well observed ‘coming of age’ stories are always fresh and always relevant, even if we feel like we’ve seen the characters or encountered the obstacles before. For today’s teenagers, the Instagram generation, the line between health and the dangers of eating disorders has never looked so thin. And this is where Shez comes unstuck.

Now, I’m not sixteen anymore, but dancing around the kitchen to Taylor Swift would probably be what I was up to if I were. As she sits, legs swinging, on the kitchen table and begins her story, the disparity between her candid words and awkward gait, her mood swings between ecstatic and despairing and the intensity in actress Imogen Comrie’s eyes that pleads to be understood rings painfully true.

Yes, this is a play about eating disorders and the ease with which they can creep in and turn a life and a family upside down, but through Bram Davidovich’s sensitive and observant writing the emphasis is very firmly on Shez and her journey. We get to know the girl before the disorder, we see more of the human side and less of the clinical. She’s cheeky, she’s feisty and she won’t be pitied. She’s a far-cry from the frail, weak victim an eating disorder sufferer can sometimes be portrayed as on the stage or in the media, highlighting the ease with which healthy girls (and boys) can slip.
The monologue format Davidovich has chosen is instrumental in her character-building, whilst Comrie’s arresting vulnerability in her performance of Shez ensures we are transported by her story. The variety of ways with which she can take a sip, a mouthful or a gulp of a glass of milk, half a dozen or so of which are dotted around the stage in almost ritualistic placement, is testament to the observational quality of her acting. Her ability to communicate her character’s emotional and visceral reaction to food through this simple action was so emotionally taut, it could at times be hard to watch.
Effort has also evidently been made to portray accuracy in the representation of the treatment she receives once her condition is identified. The therapist’s portrayal is especially enlightening. I sincerely hope she is based on a real therapist out there, helping the real sufferers who struggle every day.
But what has brought her here? Her mother’s insensitive comments? Her boyfriend’s indiscretions? Or her own self-confessed “perfectionist” nature? Ultimately, the play doesn’t place sole blame. This is one of its strengths. It ensures that it doesn’t attempt to typify a disorder that manifests itself in many forms, or to suggest that there are easy answers or cure-alls.
One qualm is that the pace does escalates a bit fast, from her initial signs of illness. Perhaps a sign of it having been shortened to fit the Vaults’ tight seventy minute time slot. Ultimately however, the play feels like a snapshot of a girl on her way to the rest of her life. Can she learn to adapt, grow and accept herself? I am left sincerely hoping so.

Georgia Renwick
January 2018

Image courtesy of Kryptonite Theatre

 

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From → Drama, Fringe, Reviews

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