“a tale full of drama that entirely lacked dramatic impact“
Bit of Sunshine is a one-woman show written by and starring Nicole Zweiback. Zweibeck is Kira, a young woman still struggling with bulimia, having been orphaned at a young age and brought up by her sister. The monologue jumps between the past and the present, and we learn of Kira’s life as a little girl, her relationship with boyfriend Jason, her ejection from work and her time in an eating disorder clinic.
Much of the detail in the writing is horrific, and yet the audience remained at an emotional distance from Kira and it was, ultimately, a tale full of drama that entirely lacked dramatic impact. For this kind of confessional-style piece to work, the audience needs either to feel a lot, or learn a lot; preferably both. In this case, there was nothing new to learn about this dreadful condition, and we left the theatre unmoved. This was partly to do with a lot of well worn phrases in the writing, and a lot to do with the fact that the unique qualities that theatre can bring to narrative weren’t harnessed.
So much could have been added here with a bolder and less literal approach. All the creative and driven young people involved would benefit by absorbing the work of companies like Frantic Assembly and Complicite, by the work currently being shown at The Yard, by directors like Ned Bennett and Sara Joyce, who get to the emotional meaning of text through exploding it from underneath. Words alone aren’t enough to help an audience connect with the ugliness and pain of bulimia; take us there with the tools of theatre – movement, light and sound.
All of this young team are currently in training, and this is the time to experiment. Be bold. Fail big. And learn stuff along the way. This production played it safe and was the poorer for it. It takes more to create atmosphere than a smoke machine.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Bit of Sunshine
Backstage Theatre Mountview until 13th July as part of Catalyst Festival
“a little more finesse in both writing and performance could have shifted things up a gear from good to really, really great”
Being dumped sucks. Being dumped after a decade in a relationship? Well… that’s something else. Natasha Santos’ script and performance explores the trauma – and ultimate redemption – in forensic detail.
The Everest of the title is Rob Everest, Libby’s (now) ex-boyfriend and sometime nemesis. Santos has great fun as Libby, clearly enjoying the playfulness of her script and exerting considerable charisma. And she gives us lots to enjoy; Libby regales us with her woes via clever musical accompaniment and much wit. We’re treated to flashbacks to her childhood friendship to the strains of the Spice Girls, an excruciating workout class to Salt-N-Pepa and, poignantly, José González’ Heartbeats as we see the first glimmers of Libby’s hope for a new life.
The music choices are uniformly great (what better break-up song is there than Nothing Compares 2 U?) and special mention must go to the choreography, which is hilariously on point. The trio flick into movements in perfect unison (including a memorable impersonation of Libby’s ex’s sexual prowess), adding a polish to the fast-moving performance.
With all the riotous humour of the piece, though, the production can at times feel overdone. Characterisations, such as that of Libby’s ghastly colleague Sandra, can creep towards parodic gurning, and this does a disservice to the quality acting on offer (both of Santos’ fellow actors Grace Dunne and George Vafakis more than hold their own here, with some beautifully wry performances). Some of the more extreme caricatures of heartbreak feel more than a little hackneyed, as Libby knocks back the Pinot and drunk dials Rob to sing Whitney down the line. And small details can feel distracting and detract from an otherwise smooth production; pretending to swig from empty wine bottles feels like a mimicry too far, for example.
It’s great to see such a defiantly female-led production, from Santos as writer and lead to director Katherine Timms and especially great work from technical designer Abi Toghill. And it’s an appealing production, too. Just a little more finesse in both writing and performance could have shifted things up a gear from good to really, really great.