“I close my eyes and think back to the days when I used to stuff my face with mum’s spaghetti bolognese and I loved it, tomato juice dripping all down my chin.”
In a week when I’ve celebrated my 29th birthday (for the 8th year running, I might add), it’s perhaps appropriate that the title of Strawberry Starburst went right over my head. Here’s me picturing something fruitily poetic when in actual fact, Starburst are what the Opal Fruits of my youth (“made to make your mouth water” – slogan courtesy of Murray Walker, trivia fans) are now called (it’s obviously too long since I’ve been in a sweet shop!).
My inability to remember things I surely knew aside, Bram Davidovich’s one-woman play is actually an altogether more serious prospect. Shez is a young woman who has a healthy attitude towards food – including a liking for those sweets – and life in general, but finds herself increasingly buffeted by domestic and societal pressures that warp the relationships around her, including her own with her own body, with devastating consequences.
For Strawberry Starburst is a tale of the way in which eating disorders can creep up even on reasonably well-adjusted lives, triggered by any number of things or indeed, an unholy combination of many. A thoughtless comment from a mother, a suddenly absentee father, the pressures exerted by a horny boyfriend, fashion pages and internet commenters peddling the pernicious notion of thigh gaps…all contributing to Shez’s changing view on food.
Director Asia Osborne and performer Maryam Grace thus give us an at-times searing look at how this sorted teenager’s life is derailed, full of poignant humour that transmutes into straight-up sadness and genuine shock at how absolute a hold such a condition takes. From the agonising way in which she points out her least favourite parts of her body to the tragedy in how happy food memories (that spag bol…) are distorted out of all recognition, it’s a bracingly heartfelt monologue,
Friday 13th gremlins meant we weren’t able to get the full benefit of Rachel Sampley’s lighting but I’m not sure the concept of Alice Davies’ design with its gauze curtains always worked towards a viscerally-felt audience experience. As the unapologetic directness of the opening with Grace’s uncompromising connection with the audience shifts into the horrors of illness and institutionalisation and the expertly-done truly distressing manner in which this actress shows us how physically traumatic the simple act of eating has become, it’s hard not to feel that storytelling this bold shouldn’t be fully exposed.