Eat Your Heart Out: a moving, important play

Stage

We sat down to watch Eat Your Heart Out unsure of what to expect. We knew the play would be about eating disorders, and so it’s unexpectedly funny start was a pleasant surprise. The opening scene was clever, with the actors creating their own sound effects and swaying from side to side conveying the movement of the number 67 bus. This was not just a clever and amusing way to start the story, but it also made us connect with the characters through this story-telling scene.

The striking thing about this play was just how subtly the audience was shown signs that things in Bel’s life weren’t all that well. A solemn atmosphere crept in slowly as the play moved from the bus scene, in which Belle wouldn’t eat all the smarties in the tube, to the dramatic scene of Bel’s party. There were times when the scene would initially appear rather comical – the PE scene, for example. But on deeper examination, the audience could soon tell that the shadow of the eating disorder was looming.

As well as being visually very interesting and exploring the extraordinary range of the actors’ capabilities, these scenes conveyed to us the important message that eating disorders can sneak slowly into your life before taking it over completely. The scenes of Bel in the eating disorder clinic weren’t as interesting as some of the earlier ones, but we thought that perhaps this was an intentional move on the part of the director. Unlike many other depictions of eating disorders in the media, this play did not glamourise or sensationalise Bel’s suffering. The rawness of the clinic scenes amplified the message that eating disorders aren’t pretty in the slightest.

Our favourite part of the play was the way the ending wrapped up the beginning effectively. Throughout the play, Bel was never able to properly articulate what she was going through. But as Bel sits in the anonymous discussion group in the clinic at the very end of the play, she begins to talk about how she got in that position and immediately it becomes clear that this the play had been the story she has narrated from this position. This cyclical concept was a nice touch, and it made sense of Bel’s previous narrations.

However, at times the play did seem slightly confusing due to the small cast. It sometimes worked well, with one actor very effectively switching between Liam and the PE teacher. However, there were other times when we found we lost track of which character was currently being played. This was mitigated by the high-quality acting, particularly with respect to switching roles, but still the play could gain a lot from having a larger cast.

Unlike many other depictions of eating disorders in the media, this play did not glamourise or sensationalise Bel’s suffering.

We particularly loved the actor who played Chantelle. We loved how she conveyed her energetic nature, and the way she interacted with Bel showed a huge contrast in character between the two. This was another subtle touch in which the realities of how an eating disorder can constrict your personality were conveyed.

It was also interesting to see the differences between the two characters of Bel and Jordan, both of whom had suffered from an eating disorder. However, whilst Jordan was portrayed as the high school loner, Bel was popular, “strong, smart and hot”. It was not surprising when Jordan ended up in the eating disorder clinic, and it could have been easily predicted that the play would lead to a point where Bel would bump into him there; however, it draws on an important message, with Jordan remarking that he wouldn’t have expected to see Bel end up in an eating disorder clinic. It shows how even the people you would never have expected, can also suffer from mental health problems. The inclusion of a male character suffering from bulimia was also a very important addition to the play, as it shows a perspective that we don’t normally see in relation to eating disorders.

This play certainly wasn’t for the weak hearted – it left us both in tears and unable to speak. Phillipa Lawford’s directing was brilliant, and we might go as far to say this was the best student play we have seen in Oxford, despite its small cast. Important and relevant; this play spoke to the audience on a deeper level. We only hope it can go some way towards addressing and  raising awareness of the epidemic of mental health problems in our generation.

Image Credit: Eat Your Heart Out (Philippa Lawford)