Strawberry Starburst at The Blue Elephant Theatre Review

A London girl who loves strawberry flavoured starbursts. Sounds innocent enough, but it’s not until the story starts to unfold like sweet wrappers that you realise the true message of Bram Davidovich’s play.

This one woman production is about a typical teenager, Shez, who likes ballet but gives up to pursue other interesting things, like boys. Shez’s Mum proceeds to tell her to get outside and exercise rather than eating sweets all day, causing her to worry about her weight. This along with her boyfriend’s hesitation at the classic question “Am I fat?” propels Shez towards an eating disorder.

As an ex-dancer, this play hits home massively. I understand the pressures of wanting to slim down and parents telling you that “you looked so lovely at 17.” I watched this production with a willing for Shez, played beautifully by Maryam Grace, to overcome her struggle. When you feel an emotional connection to a fictional character, you know you’re watching good writing.

This brings me nicely to Bram Davidovich’s script. Honest, truthful and conversational, I found myself going on the journey with Shez rather than watching a piece of theatre. The important message of “it’s okay not to have a thigh gap” was present, without being too preachy.

Maryam Grace’s performance was subtle and physically detailed. There were moments where she looked perfectly healthy and moments when she looked so frail that her lovely big eyes might pop out of her skull. Her delivery was passionate, emotional and she looked comfortable standing up there as an exposed and damaged character. I, as a spectator, also felt comfortable with the direct address - something so hard to get right with an interactive performance such as this. There were times when Shez imitated other influential figures in her life and I felt that Grace could have gone further with the characterisation. But overall, an enticing performance.

Asia Osborne does a wonderful job of directing a show that could very easily fall into staticism. Her use of thin sheets falling from the ceiling, projected images and boxes created a visually compelling performance, although at times I wished that the curtain wasn’t there as it masked some of Grace’s pained expressions.

One criticism I will give is that I thought the ending of the piece should have come earlier. The performance starts with Shez dancing around the stage, almost as a 4 year old learning ballet for the first time. How lovely it would have been if the production bookended itself and concluded when Shez’s councellor got her to dance around her hospital bed.

Overall, a very poignant and important play that needs showcasing to a wider audience. We need to start making men and women of all ages believe that “the hardest battle is with yourself,” and that it’s okay to need help sometimes.

Strawberry Starburst runs at the Blue Elephant Theatre until 28th May.

(c) 2016 Molly Miller

Actor - Maryam Grace
Playwright - Bram Davidovich
Director - Asia Osborne
Designer - Alice Davies
Lighting Designer - Rachel Sampley
Sound Designer - Odinn Orn Hilmarsson & Joe Donohoe
Stage Manager - James Arnold

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