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Lean, Tristan Bates Theatre

Isley Lynn

Directed by Chelsea Walker
Pros: Brave and faultless performances in a show that addresses a tricky subject, helped by the seemliest script.
Cons: None myself, although some may find it difficult to watch the violent scenes at the end of the play.
Our Verdict: Look in your diary. Find a spare 90 mins. Get yourself to the Tristan Bates Theatre. A brave and bold script which deserves not to be passed over just because of the subject matter.
Credit: Richard Lakos for Strip Theatre
I am sure I am not alone in thinking that a play about male anorexia would be hard going and a tad uncomfortable. I am therefore hoping this review may help to assuage your fears – in part anyway. Lean is a new play written by Isley Lynn in collaboration with Strip Theatre. The hard-hitting subject matter suits a sympathetic venue like the Tristan Bates, which is both intimate and welcoming. It was actually my first visit to this hidden gem in Covent Garden, I am slightly ashamed to say.
The play is set in a domestic kitchen. It is spotlessly clean and tidy. The cupboards and fridge are bare. A blank calendar hangs from the fridge, hinting at a life empty and with little to look forward to. It could be a kitchen from the Ideal Home Exhibition. It certainly does not represent the chaos of my own kitchen!
The kitchen is occupied by estranged couple Tessa (played by Laura Hanna) and Michael (played by Tim Dorsett). Estranged yes, but the couple are noticeably still wearing their wedding bands. Tessa has returned unexpectedly to the family home, to “cure” Michael of his bout of anorexia. It is simple for Tessa; she is convinced that blackmailing Michael into eating will work. Tessa’s plan – she will eat only when Michael does. The reason for the couple’s separation and Michael’s illness does not become apparent until later in the play. Even then we are not given all the pieces to the jigsaw, but enough to fill some of the blanks.
Thereafter follows a battle of wills. Both Tessa and Michael are seemingly playing a game, albeit a dangerous one. Michael prefers to feed his mind rather than his body; he laughs at his wife’s endeavours to cure him as she continuously tries to get him to put food in his mouth and chew. Tessa’s endeavours involve going on a mad cooking spree and putting plate after plate of food in front of Michael, resembling something like an Adam Richman, Man V. Food contest.
It soon becomes apparent that neither Tessa nor Michael will win this battle. Both shed more and more weight, symbolically shown by clothing being discarded throughout the play. Actually, as the clothes came off, I noticed real bruises on Laura Hanna’s arms and legs. At the end of the play, I realised how they had been acquired when the play takes a shocking and violent turn. It is necessary violence though, even if it is uncomfortable to watch, because of what is born from it.
Laura Hanna gives her all (and more, physically, with her bruises) throughout the whole 90 minutes, but it is Tim Dorsett’s stand out performance which takes you in completely. It also gives you a jolly good shake along the way as he lives the life of an anorexic. I hope to see him perform again. Be warned though: the play stays with you when you leave – unsurprisingly. In this case, this is no bad thing.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Lean runs at Tristan Bates Theatre until 23rd February 2013.
Box Office: 020 7240 6283 or book online at http://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk

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