Strawberry Starburst, Brockley Jack Studio Theatre - Review

As part of its perennial commitment to nurturing new writing, the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre has showcased the likes of Strawberry Starburst during the present festival season. Directed by Elizabeth Kent and starring Hayley Wareham, this one-woman show traces the seeds of dissatisfaction with body image and eating disorders to their earliest point of origin.

The play follows Shez (Shelley), a teenager who for a time lives in happy family household. Her father's transition from breadwinner to housebound husband puts pressure on the marriage, exacerbated by the mother's dissatisfaction with the status quo. Heeding his wife's demands, the husband moves out, leaving Shez to face the full brunt of her mother's tongue. Although she's enamoured with her new boyfriend, Shez deep down knows it's her father who really understands and listens to her.

The most decisive point in Shez's life though is her mother commenting that she's "put on weight". As her mother "looks really good" for her age, Shez takes her remarks to heart, and her doubts and fears grab ahold of her. There's no way Shez will let her weight be responsible for losing her boyfriend. And so the spiral of self-doubt and abstinence begins...

Strawberry Starburst is told from the point of view of Shez, and Wareham who plays all the characters puts in an accomplished performance – ranging from the play’s 16-year-old protagonist, through to the doctors and counsellor at her local hospital. By utilising chalk, and the black walls and floor of the theatre space, Wareham creates a mosaic of the disparate memories and influences that have contributed to her life's journey.

What becomes apparent in Bram Davidovich’s play is the unobtrusive, slow way that anorexia creeps on you, like a frog sitting at the bottom of a saucepan that's heating up. ‘Keeping fit’ and ‘losing weight’ starts off as a positive activity, but can end up covering a multitude of sins. Anyone who's ever seen Requiem For A Dream knows that losing weight to 'look good' for a specific function can end up being an all-consuming mindset, with no end goal in sight.

One of many pertinent things that comes across in the writing is that attitudes to what constitutes abnormal weight can be internalised from family members or significant others. The issues the play raises makes it a perfect choice for older school children to see, as the pressures from peers, loved ones and self-doubt all come into play.

Kent’s direction ensure there's verisimilitude to the proceedings, while retaining the play's humour and canny observations. All in all, Strawberry Starburst is an admirable foray into 21st Century teen life and its accompanying pressures.

© Michael Davis 2015

Strawberry Starburst ran at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre 6-7 August 2015.

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