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Published on Thursday, 25 August 2011

5 stars

Zoo Roxy (venue website)
5-18, 20-29 Aug, 5:15pm-6:15pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Recommended for age 12+ only.

It’s not a comfortable feeling, coming into a theatre to find the actors standing in their underwear.  Is it OK to look?  Are you allowed to smile?  But if I’m honest with myself, the most uncomfortable aspect was a very personal one… for the gentleman among the three-strong cast looks better with his shirt off than I do, ever did, or ever will.

It’s a clever and effective opening tableau, which casts us into the mindset of the two women at the heart of this play.  Affected by eating disorders, they live with those thoughts not for a fleeting moment, but for every minute of every day.  As a piece of physical theatre, this work is well-choreographed – albeit that a couple of more abstract sequences tested my patience.  For me, though, the real power is in the spoken words; as the unnamed central character hugs her likeably blokeish boyfriend, she turns to us and admits that she lies to him every time she sees him.  “I’m pretending I’m happy,” she says.

For some light relief to balance the downbeat mood, the script turns to meta-theatrics, with the actors stepping out of character to acknowledge the fact they’re in a play.  The banter with their purposefully geeky guitarist is gentle, but funny enough; and the humour is very much needed, for some of the scenes are devastating.  As time went on and I learned more about the workings of the women’s minds, I grew sensitized to the unintended brutality of everyday remarks; mundane scenes became heartbreaking.  When one of them finally summons the courage to share her secret with her boyfriend, his reaction is simultaneously understandable and cruel.

All three actors – and that guitarist – turn in well-judged performances, never over-wrought, but completely unambiguous about the importance of what we’re being shown.  It’s much to their credit that their performance stays engaging, even at its darker times; they explain rather than lecture, and created an instant rapport which meant I truly cared about their suffering, much as I might care for a colleague or friend.

I don’t normally give the ending away, but this time I must.  In the final monologue from the second, mysterious woman – whose separate story runs in parallel to the first – we discover that for her, at least, it’s all worked out OK.  The way she learns to accept herself is a little deus ex machina, but as the culmination of a longer journey it’s convincing and affirming.  The play presents no trite solutions, but it offers a reassurance that the cycle can be broken.  And there’s a supremely clever final visual image, which I won’t spoil for you, but highlights the power of love to wipe away pain.

And then they took their shirts off again.  But something had changed; a message had wormed its way into my brain.  I didn’t feel jealous any more.

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