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Spoonface Steinberg, Jermyn Street Theatre

Lee Hall

Directed by Max Barton
★★★★
Pros: Spoonface not only confronts the elephant in the room, she rides it. A touching and deeply thought-provoking production.
Cons: A crushing reminder of the fragility of life which can be hard to watch in places. 
Our Verdict: Lucy Hollis gives a memorable performance of Lee Hall’s breakthrough one-woman play.
Courtesy of Jermyn Street Theatre

The eponymous Spoonface Steinberg (Lucy Hollis), a young girl who suffers from autism, understands and explores the world in a simplified but nonetheless astute way. What she lacks in understanding of the implications of her parents’ separation, or worse still the Holocaust, she makes up for in feeling. Originally written as a radio play for BBC Radio 4, Spoonface Steinberg draws many parallels with writer Lee Hall’s best known work Billy Elliot, with regards to the alienation often felt by children who are different.

Eyes wide, unsure, Spoonface is sizing up the audience. Her nervousness in front of adults, typical of children, is transferred to the audience but Spoonface becomes more confident and playful as the play progresses. Such organic character development is just one example of the careful nuances Hollis displays in what is an impressive solo performance. Spoonface invites the audience in to her world: hospital wards, a penchant for opera (coupled with a distaste for boy band Take That) and an underlying sense of separation. Flitting between frowns and fits of joy, she retells events in charming lists made up of short matter-of-fact statements joined together by a series of ‘ands’. Though the eventual confirmation of her being different from other children soon becomes the defining feature of her outlook, ‘I am a special child, I am backwards’, it really shouldn’t matter.
It is unfortunate that uniqueness is often preferred to being positive, and Spoonface reiterates this when she ponders ‘whose fault’ her autism is. Indeed the only time her parents appear excited is upon learning that their daughter can work out advanced sums and recall the correct days for specific dates in the past years. Spoonface is littering the stage with number fridge magnets whilst narrating how delight soon turned to disappointment when it became clear that she was unable to do any serious maths under pressure. Director Max Barton ought to be applauded for such touches which are not just pleasing on the eye, but convey deeper meaning too.
The nature of Spoonface’s autism means all pretence is stripped away in this overtly honest extended monologue. Indeed she makes a point of making clear that the difference between the time it took her parents to complete their respective PhDs was her mother’s pregnancy. Spoonface not only confronts the elephant in the room, she rides it. It is precisely in moments such as these where the beauty of the piece lies. Hollis’s verve means she expertly captures the essence of what it means to be Spoonface, and ensures Hall’s compelling dialogue is done justice. After some time she explains, ‘this is all because I’m autistic’, and the tragedy is that by the end it really does matter.
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Spoonface Steinberg runs at Jermyn Street Theatre until 20th July 2013.
Box Office: 020 7287 2875 or book online at https://www.eticketing.co.uk/jermynstreettheatre/default.aspx

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