Review: Keep It Down at The Hope Theatre, Islington

Monday 15th August 2022 at The Hope Theatre, Islington.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewer: Maygan Forbes

TRIGGER WARNING: eating disorders

Keep It Down (written and performed by Emma Oldfield and directed by Kierath Jandoo) is an uncomfortable watch. But not for the reasons you may think. It’s uncomfortable because the portrayal of one woman’s battle with an eating disorder is so profoundly authentic, I couldn’t help but to anxiously fiddle with any items I had in my reach to distract myself from the depressing reality of a binge/purge eating disorder cycle.

Described as a semi-biographical story, we join Daisy (Oldfield) on her birthday as she celebrates another year gone, but her blasé and facetious remarks are covering a deep-rooted problem. A coping mechanism that is the best way she knows how to navigate her emotions after her mother passed away. The stage is brilliantly littered with junk food wrappers and coke cans to alert the audience that we are about to witness a very real depiction of the vicious illness. The stage design (the work of Daniel Oldfield) was really well thought out and executed; the table placed in the middle of the room was decorated with diary entries, each one reasoning why Daisy felt deserving of the disordered punishment.

The play uses voice overs on stage as a powerful tool (sound designer: Harnaam Jandoo) to not only voice external characters in Daisy’s world, but also may hint to the voices playing around in her head as she battles with the binge/purge cycle. One phrase that stuck out to me was: “you’re looking really well”. A sentence that has the capability to play over and over in your head if you’re somebody struggling with an eating disorder.

The influence of words in the play are one of the many strengths that Oldfield portrays to the audience and uses to her advantage. The hyper awareness which then spirals to hypersensitivity of discussions that hint to diet culture and the slim fast diet shakes and the calories on a menu. All things flippantly used by people in our everyday life who don’t realise the value these comments has on a sufferer. TV shows such as the infamous “Supersize vs Superskinny” and “My 500 Pound Life”, contribute to a narrative that may seem like idle trash reality shows, but to somebody afflicted with an eating disorder, it’s an invisible testimony on our own bodies.

Another insight the play serves to the audience is the subtext of struggling NHS services that are there to support with mental health. With an NHS currently on its knees, services that are there to support with mental health are increasingly stretched and resources limited. Daisy comments on her reluctance to get help as she does not believe she is at the right weight that would prompt immediate intervention. Waiting lists only mean that the desire to seek help is pushed further into the distant future.

One scene delicately directed by Jandoo that sticks out to me is when Daisy, confronted with the prospect of dinner, tries to distract herself by dancing. A funny scene on the surface however underneath it, I understand that by completing vigorous exercise she is hoping that the urge to eat dinner will decrease. Because eating dinner means a binge spiral is inevitable and the dinner turns into everything in the kitchen. And sadly, I was correct.

This play is wonderfully written and directed, Daisy’s intoxication with food is heavy and shows how there really isn’t an ending to the struggle. A society that thrives on diet culture and revolves around eating means that individuals like Daisy will always be at the mercy of the vicious disease.

Keep It Down plays at The Hope Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe. You can find more information and tickets here.

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