Pros: Excellent character development in Maryam Grace’s truly endearing performance as Shez.
Cons: The curtains towards the front of the performance space obstructed rather than aided the presentation of the play.
A play about eating disorders is bound to tug on the heartstrings to an extent, but in Strawberry Starburst Maryam Grace really had the entire audience aligned and rooting for her character Shez. Maryam’s body language and emotive expressions wonderfully and naturally encapsulated Shez’s decline in health; watching her morph from an energetic exaggerated teenager into a vulnerable little girl, we understood the truly devastating effects of the disorder.
The direct address to the audience was immersive, although if you’re uncomfortable by a somewhat interactive and involved performance then take a seat further back. Asia Osborne’s direction created a moving and captivating performance and paired with Bram Davidovich’s naturalistic dialogue a real connection was formed between the audience and the character of Shez.
The performance was undoubtedly enhanced by Rachel Sampley’s spectacular lighting design. Though technical difficulties arose on the night, the contrasting tones of the play owe credit to the colour palette cleverly integrated into the lighting: the bright yellows at the start of Shez’s story slowly melted to harsh clinical blues as she moved towards hospitalisation. The projections of light onto the back curtain of the set to create movement and shadow were also beautiful and well executed.
Set was minimal, consisting of one effective curtain, one slightly irritatingly obstructive curtain and 3 multi-coloured boxes resembling starburst sweets. Though the shuffling of the boxes at times was distracting, they subtly transformed into set pieces, and the dual use of them to store props which were seamlessly integrated into the scenes was both ingenious and effective.
The conversational narrative drew me into the story immediately. Storytelling primarily through monologue allowed an instant connection between the audience and Shez, which made it all the more painful to watch her disorder control her life and reduce her strong willed attitude to a silent plea for help. The thematic relevance of eating disorders was clearly put across, and the way in which they were expressed was truthful and informative. The subject matter was never manipulated for dramatic purposes and I came out feeling enlightened and informed on the awful effects eating disorders have on a person, and how they manifest in someone without them even realising.
The ending was very cyclical yet I found myself thinking that another point in the play would be more suitable to end on: the positive scene with Shez dancing around wildly with her counsellor in her hospital room. The music in this scene was the same music from the opening of the play and the tone felt optimistic and strong. Personally this is where I would have loved it to have ended, with recovery being achievable but not quite a reality. However this does not at all discredit the heart-warming ending chosen.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the play and feel that more theatre-makers should tackle the content that Davidovich’s piece does so well. A fantastic space for a fresh and innovative play.
Author: Bram Davidovich
Director: Asia Osborne
Producer: Kryptonite Plays
Booking Until: Saturday 28 May 2016
Box Office: 020 7701 0100
Booking Link: http://www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk/strawberry-starburst