Oddball (The Gift Horse, Horse and Stables, VAULT Festival, until February 16th)
A Fit-Bit with attitude and Satanic vegan mince are among the unconventional side dishes in a very funny show that seeks to strip away the stereotypes surrounding eating disorders.
Avoiding the clichés too often heaped on any discussion about or presentation of anorexia sufferers Francesca Forristal’s “Oddball” is a genuine attempt to face the facts – but also allows the audience to laugh comfortably at the all too real scenarios and thought processes of what she describes as the nutritionally-challenged as we get to understand it better.
Although it’s a semi-autobiographical piece the show only mirrors some of writer and performer Forristal’s story, but there is enough honest insight – and even comprehension of wider mental health issues – to make this a compelling and entertaining 60 minutes.
The show’s framing device is that Oddball (apparently so-named by her cheeky Fit-Bit Karen) is preparing for a first date with Emily. Everything seems set for success – after all, not only do they both have a passion for musical theatre, but they both like “Fun Home,” for goodness sake!) – but what might ruin things for a recovering anorexic is that the date is for dinner in a restaurant.
Through flashbacks, dream sequences, physical comedy and astute observation Forristal tells the story with incredible energy, regularly breaking the fourth wall to address audience members directly – an approach which works very well in the VAULT Festival’s Gift Horse venue, above the Horse and Stables pub.
Director Micha Mirto ensure things don’t get too introspective or downbeat, allowing Forristal to take centre stage in the one-woman show, but giving supervisory nudges to ensure none of the narrative or the actions around it linger too long.
There are laugh out loud moments, such as reflecting on past dates and explaining some of the regime at the eating disorder clinic (“Six anorexics walk into a sandwich bar…”) but these are always balanced with showing the discomfort and trauma of a sufferer when faced with a menu or the awkwardness of social situations.
While there is little in the way of scenery or props there is great sound design (Jordan Clarke) to accompany moments of mime. Clarke and Forristal have also between them written some splendid original music, much of it sending up established musical styles (as well as showing off Forristal’s rather fine singing voice). A favourite number must be The Genuinely Mentally Unwell Block Tango, which cries out for Bob Fosse jazz hands.
“She’s funny and she recovered from anorexia – what a trouper!” shouts Forristal towards the stage from the audience seats at one point and that pretty much sums up a show which bravely tackles an often taboo topic with courage and confidence. It never once pokes fun but constantly prods understanding, not ever falling into a comfortable trap of suggesting that recovery comes with a snap of the fingers or a wave of Magic Stars.
Any show that has a punchline of “F*** you, focaccia!” will make any audience sit up and take notice. When that show also handles a difficult subject with such wit and style and sends its audience out with thoughts well and truly provoked it deserves all the attention it can muster.
A version of this review originally appeared on The Spy in the Stalls http://www.thespyinthestalls.com/