The Hope Theatre
“I used to have an eating disorder. I still do but I’m normal weight now. So it’s easier to say I’m over it.” It is crystal clear from the very start that Daisy (Emma Oldfield) really does have a problem. She is just a little too clued up on where best to sit on the Megabus to get good toilet access for someone who doesn’t spend all her free time working out such logistics. She needs to know this as it’s the quickest way to bring food she has eaten back up before she risks digestion.
Keep it Down really does go all out to highlight Daisy’s relationship with her eating disorder; it’s a relationship not just with food but the toilet too. Such issues shouldn’t be sugar coated for easier digestion (or later regurgitation). So, talk of loos is part and parcel of this play, and what makes it such a powerful one.
Daisy really confesses all in intimate detail. We find out about her manic food binging sessions, her guilt that comes soon after, and of course the all-important aspects of ensuring that food comes up before it goes down. So yes, there is lots of toilet talk; flush power, pooing in Tupperware boxes and their general cleanliness all get served up. It’s a little gross, but it’s meant to be. And for that Oldfield must be applauded. Her clever and often very funny writing demonstrates in minute detail how our relationship with food is deeply ingrained and so can be a real problem for anyone with an eating disorder. From the simple convenience of access to food, to the way snacking is part of our life – work meeting donuts anyone?
However, what feels unnecessary is when the script then carries the blunt approach to language into every other aspect of Daisy’s life. It feels as if the purpose is to normalise the eating disorder within her everyday life but also to shock. But in so doing it seems a disservice to some otherwise wonderfully comedic writing. It just feels wrong, out of place, unnecessary, when we are already invested in the main story. It also surely risks taking away later shock value as Daisy makes further revolting food and toilet confessions.
There is also an over reliance on voiceovers. At times it feels like whole conversations are going through the venue speakers. This does take away Oldfield’s need to play the supporting roles directly, but could there have been a better choice rather than having her respond to disembodied voices so regularly?
What cannot be denied however is Oldfield’s superb performance. She is fully immersed in Daisy, so much so you could suspect the character’s life isn’t completely a work of fiction. Her timing is spot on, and whilst those voiceovers are at times a frustration, again, you cannot fault Oldfield’s interaction with them, her perfectly timed responses demonstrating a well-rehearsed production.
It is though when the play turns to its darker moments, when Daisy details her eating disorder in graphic details, that you feel the power of her words. It’s here the coarseness is warranted as she doesn’t hold back. It’s here the writing feels alive and relevant. Her descriptions of her manic food rushes followed by purges is an education to someone without any real knowledge of the matter. It’s here you wish the show would spend more time and attention. And it’s here that the real strength of the play exists, making it one that could go from a simple snack to a full three course meal with some further attention.
Written by: Emma Oldfield
Directed by: Kierath Jandoo
Keep It Down plays at The Hope Theatre until 18 August. Further information and bookings can be found here.