“a well-crafted piece of theatrical storytelling … nourishing, and created with a great deal of heart and soul”
Eating Myself is an autobiographical/confessional monologue, written and performed by Pepa Duarte. Pepa is Peruvian, and the storytelling centres around her preparation of a hearty Peruvian soup. She chops and stirs and adds ingredients, and all the while the big soup tureen sits on the hob bubbling away. It is a visceral and frequently painful piece which, for the most part, examines Pepa’s deeply troubling relationship with food, but also leads to an exploration of her relationship with her female identity and, finally, a deeper understanding and celebration of her Peruvian heritage. In live performance, the slowly-cooking soup would clearly provide a kind of aromatic underscore, which would frequently be in sharp sensual counterpoint to the self-imposed culinary controls and deprivations Pepa re-enacts.
Unlike some other online theatrical experiences which have been available during the pandemic – most notably Jermyn Street Theatre’s 15 Heroines – Eating Myself is clearly a live show filmed, as opposed to a piece created for the small screen. It was ably filmed using more than one camera, meaning that cuts and close-ups enhanced our streaming experience, and Tom Sochas’ composition and sound design also served the experience well, as did the wonderful creative costume elements. Ultimately though, it was impossible not to want more, and to yearn to be breathing the same air and sharing the same smells and space as the performer, especially one as naturally engaging as Pepa, who invites intimacy, and exudes warmth. She is also a very expressive physical artist, and uses her body with grace, power and beauty throughout.
Certain sections of the script could use a bit of an edit – the show would benefit from being 10 minutes shorter – but this was a well-crafted piece of theatrical storytelling, and, like the soup at its centre, nourishing, and created with a great deal of heart and soul.
“a more nuanced discussion and less dramatics would go far in improving this play”
All By Myself, directed by Jessica Bickel-Barlow and produced by Olivia Munk, is a one-woman show that tells the story of an unnamed woman (Charlie Blandford), alone in her apartment, but connected to the outside world through her YouTube account. The play explores the comparison between the image that appears on social media and real life, the former often carefully curated to achieve the desired results.
The performance begins with a pre-recorded video of the YouTube starlet trying to film the opening clips of her next upload. The woman obsesses over her hair, the positioning of her shoulders, and the tone of her voice as she attempts to simply greet her audience. When the woman ‘messes up’ or shows how she truly feels, the video pauses and we see the undesirable clips being deleted in editing. Her YouTube video is the only time that we hear our star speak, the rest of the play in near silence apart from a few exclamations and cries.
After this, the audience gets to meet the ‘real’ woman behind the vlogging camera. Immaculately dressed and wearing heavy make-up in her videos; in her apartment, the woman lounges in pyjamas with her hair tied back in a rough ponytail. She casually eats Coco Pops dry from the box and empty drinks bottles are strewn around her. She appears comfortable without the world watching her.
This soon changes as we see the woman obsessing over taking photos for social media. Peeling a potato for a homemade facemask, the woman meticulously scatters and repositions the potato peel for the desired photo opportunity. Later, our protagonist has a panic attack when she cannot get a good picture of her desk strewn with fairy lights.
The performance does raise some interesting points, mainly, about how we only sees a small snippet of a content creator’s life, but a few scenes border on the ridiculous. At the end of the play, the woman’s phone charger stops working, sending her into a frenzy. She quickly pulls out six potatoes and tries to devise a battery with nails and wire. It is doubtful even the most addicted phone users have tried this trick. This level of dramatics muddies the very real issues that the play is trying to address.
There are also clear opportunities to highlight real versus online that are not utilised. Throughout the show, the woman takes Instagram photos around her apartment. It would have been great if the ‘final product’ flashed up on screen so we could see both the curated result and the chaos behind it.
The script is also a little on the nose at times. For example, while filming, the woman thanks her audience before mumbling, “if you’re still watching or care or should care.” The woman’s desire for human connection could have easily been expressed through an overenthusiasm for comments or calling her audience her ‘family’ or ‘friends’ as many YouTubers do. This desperation, like the potato battery, feels overblown.
The set was nicely put together. The back of a kitchen unit and fridge faces the audience, a desk and chair are to the left and an armchair to the right. The lights are simple, only changing significantly when the woman naps after her panic attack and darkness sets in. Blamford is strong in her role as the woman, even though she has no lines to work with.
The themes of All By Myself are incredibly topical, especially as society becomes more aware of the adverse effects of social media. However, a more nuanced discussion and less dramatics would go far in improving this play.
Reviewed by Flora Doble
Photography by Will Alder
All by Myself
Online via AppleCart Arts as part of the Dazed New World Festival 2020