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‘Don’t leave,’ pleads one of the characters quietly to the audience at the beginning of ‘Mess’. He’s just announced that the 70-minute play is about ‘potentially difficult issues’, specifically anorexia nervosa.
Five minutes later, it’s impossible to imagine anyone wanting to leave. In fact, it’s impossible to imagine anyone who wouldn’t thoroughly enjoy this funny, sweet and illuminating piece from 2013 Olivier Award-nominee Caroline Horton.
Horton plays Josephine, who, accompanied by Boris (Hannah Boyde) and Sistahl (Seiriol Davies), tells a very frank story about what it was like being anorexic and how she battles to get better.
It’s not exactly the sort of material you’d immediately think might suit a quirky, madcap musical comedy. But armed with much charm, intelligence and imagination, Horton and her collaborators have created exactly that.
‘Mess’ is an ensemble piece, with the wild-haired, outlandishly dressed Sistahl (Davies) providing anarchic sound effects and Boyde playing the earnestly wittering, bumbling-but-brilliant Boris, Josephine’s friend. It’s fun throughout but it also shocks: when Josephine explains how ‘amazing’ anorexia made her feel, there’s a sudden jolt back down to earth.
It is estimated that 1.6 million people have an eating disorder like anorexia in the UK, and yet the mental illness is still very misunderstood. With this show, Horton draws on her own experiences to provide a vital insight into what having the disease is like.
But the play is never worthy. It makes fun of the way people mistakenly see anorexia – ‘it’s not about wanting to look like Kate Moss’ – and tries, through being impressively truthful, to make people understand a little more.
By Daisy Bowie-Sell