The opening of this review would ideally be a beautiful sentence introducing MESS, a performance about anorexia, to you. In an ideal world this opening paragraph would inform you that the play, now at the Albany in Deptford, was directed by Alex Swift, written and devised by Olivier-award nominee Caroline Horton, who also performs together with Hannah Boyde and Seiriol Davies, without just bluntly stating it.
The second paragraph of this review would ideally summarise the main idea of the performance. Luckily the play explains itself as the performers state clearly what they intent to do in the beginning:
“We are going to tackle issues and conquer stigma”, they say. “It’s about a person. specifically a female person”, and “It is about illness. Specifically mental illness. Specifically an eating disorder. Specifically Anorexia. Nervosa”. At this point, if you were thinking of making a beeline for the door, you can’t. “But don’t leave”, they ask.
Through her character Josephine, Caroline Horton maps her own battle with anorexia accompanied by Boris and Sistahl. Boris, enchantingly played by Hannah Boyde, is there to provide the male perspective. The ups and downs of their relationship make the performance captivating and heartfelt, while at the same time showing the awkwardness around eating disorders. Seiriol Davies, playing the diva-like Sistahl, completes the trio and through his live music/sound effects, creates a light, theatrical atmosphere (or sometimes when he feels like it, provides the dark sub-text).
The play is not merely about an illness, it is about a desire for perfection and the fight for control. As Josephine constantly reminds the audience, this is the prototype for a far more sleek and flawless West End production. At the moment they do not have the technical equipment to make Josephine fly, so we are told to imagine it.
Have you realised it yet? We do not live in an ideal, perfect world, so sometimes we have to use our imagination. A bit like you in this review have to imagine that I have written fluent paragraphs that eloquently explain and comment on this performance. In the ideal version The third paragraph ideally would provide some insightful commentary:
Boris uses a balloon demonstration kit to depict the workings of anorexia. Josephine was a full balloon, but as she deflates (the sound illustrates the use of laxatives) she becomes “empty, wrinkly and no fun”. The show is a delight to watch, full of these witty puns and jokes. It is often the humour though, that is most confrontational. There is a perfect balance between funny and painful, showing us that sometimes asking the ‘wrong’ questions, is the right thing to do.
A review should also always show the opinion of the reviewer. Ideally this would shine through the entire review, but this review is a bit of a mess (pun intended) so you are just going to get here it all at once: MESS is an insightful and touching tragicomedy about anorexia that shows us that life is not always perfect. This review is not ideal, just like MESS is not a flawless West End production. It is in fact a bit of a mess, as is life. But that is okay, because that is where we beauty.
This performance is about the difficulty to let go and be spontaneous. If you want to give that a go, here is a suggestion: be spontaneous and book tickets to MESS at the Albany in Deptford tonight at 7.30, or check here for the tour dates.