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Strawberry Starburst review at Blue Elephant Theatre, London – ‘a compelling performance’

Maryam Grace in Strawberry Starburst at the Blue Elephant Theatre, London. Photo: Lars Thornhill Maryam Grace in Strawberry Starburst at the Blue Elephant Theatre, London. Photo: Lars Thornhill
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Chez’s mum mentions that she’s putting on weight. She used to love ballet but now she just wants to eat sweets. Her boyfriend doesn’t want to say anything, but he’s noticed.

It’s hard to put a finger on exactly which of their words set Chez (Maryam Grace) onto a regimen of exercise and extreme dieting that will threaten her life. The strength of Bram Davidovich’s Strawberry Starburst is that there is nothing which logically causes her illness. As one mindfulness mantra notes, ‘thoughts are not facts’, but one or two thoughts itch at Chez and they grow into an eating disorder.

A run of Friday 13th luck rendered several lights non-functioning and a projector spilling a connection-seeking blue rectangle across the Blue Elephant Theatre stage for the press night performance, but Grace’s physicality and presence makes every other element seem extraneous. She shivers and claws at her stomach and thighs, legs involuntarily juddering. She seems genuinely horrified by the few limp strands of spaghetti she forces into her mouth. Her eyes appear bigger than she is, and she seems utterly weak, a far cry from the controlled, grinning young woman who works from first to fifth position with control earlier in the play.

Director Asia Osborne keeps this compelling performance moving, and with strong enveloping music and sound from Odinn Orn Hilmarsson and Joe Donohoe, it’s a production which makes a lot of a relatively straightforward monologue and refuses to provide easily digestible answers.

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Compellingly physical performance exploring the curious psychology behind a young woman’s eating disorder