It's the beginning of the year and everywhere you look there are television programs about being over or under weight, magazines with the newest diets or “rings of shame” showing that a celebrity has put on a little bit of weight or has lost too much. The subject of body image surrounds us in every form of media and at the Tristan Bates, Strip Theatre and writer Isley Lynn tackle the tough subject of anorexia, and particularly the rarely-discussed male anorexia, in Lean.
Tessa and Michael have separated following the death of their son. Tessa blames Michael and Michael blames himself. The play starts a year later when Tessa returns to the marital home to try to “fix” her anorexic husband and the way to do this, she believes, is to show him what he is doing to himself by only eating or drinking what he does. The story follows the pair over the next couple of weeks and their journey to try to help each other beat their various demons and fix their relationship.
This is the first full length production that poet and playwright Isley Lynn has written and she has done it with sensitivity but without pulling any punches; there is no shying away from uncomfortable moments. Sitting through five days represented by five uneaten meals, in complete silence, except the loud sound of the oven or bin closing is difficult to watch but compelling. Laura Hanna and Tim Dorett manage to convince you that within the 90 minutes of the play, they are actually wasting away in front of you, physically and emotionally, and you can really feel the desperation and pain they are sharing.
I will admit, at first, I thought that the anorexia was a gimmick to make a play about a broken relationship more interesting. Tessa is cruel to Michael about his illness with little sensitivity or understanding; she ridicules him and puts him down. Michael admits his problem and reveals his techniques for avoiding hunger and exhaustion and I don’t think this is realistic - don’t anorexics usually do everything they can to cover it up and deny their illness?
Then I realised it wasn’t the play that is wrong, it was me and my preconceptions and I realised how clever this production is and how brilliantly it has been written and performed. It isn’t always about looking in the mirror and seeing a fat person, it is about not feeling worthy enough to eat and about gaining control in an increasingly uncontrollable world.
This production is an excellent platform for making people aware of this disease and with such incredible performances by both actors coupled with clever lighting, sound and staging, it deserves a bigger audience and a bigger stage. It isn’t an easy evening but Lean is certainly thought provoking and very much worth going to see.