Legend has it that when ‘Spoonface Steinberg’ premiered as a radio play in 1997 lorry drivers pulled into the hard shoulder, surgeons paused, scalpel in hand and the entire nation wept uncontrollably. Staged with great flair by director Max Barton and admirably performed by Lucy Hollis, this is a worthy revival, but as hard as writer Lee Hall works to tug at the heartstrings, it’s tough to see what all the fuss was about.
Hall’s monologue is delivered by Spoonface, a young girl with autism who describes the disintegration of her family and death by cancer in fractured English but with disarming equanimity and insight. Hollis is superb as she roams her bedroom, bringing her toys to life as her family and her doctors, finding sensitive mannerisms to reflect her speech.
It’s just that Hall deploys such an armada of weepy topics, from suicide attempts to the holocaust, from parental alcoholism to chemotherapy, that it plays more like one of those early-2000’s misery memoirs than a lived and living story. Spoonface’s plucky naive wisdom becomes suffocating long before she snuffs it, and even then she comes back for a wistful coda. It feels like kicking the nation’s favourite puppy, but as neat and heartfelt as this production is, I fear that ‘Spoonface Steinberg’ may have had its day.
By Stewart Pringle