Mess (Manchester)

Joanna Ing loves this “enjoyable and moving” play about anorexia at Contact Theatre

© Edmund Collier

Mess is about anorexia, but as the audience is told in the opening scene, don't let that put you off. It is a play which manages to be extremely funny, without flinching from the issues.

Caroline Horton has written a semi-autobiographical piece based on her experiences with anorexia. Josephine (Horton) and her two friends are putting on a play about Josephine's experiences with anorexia. It tells the story from the vague beginnings to her eventual recovery
(though it makes the point that it is hard to know when anyone is fully recovered).

It is a difficult balance to get right; how do you do something educational on an eating disorder without being too worthy? If you make jokes about it, are you saying anorexia is something to laugh at?

Horton presents a real view of anorexia with no excuses. Josephine explains the feeling of wanting control and she demonstrates how difficult even the simplest actions, such as eating an apple, can be. Mess doesn't dwell so much on the character's actual appearance, instead it concentrates the way anorexia rules her life and impacts her psychologically.

Josephine's friend Boris (Emily Goddard) is the anxious friend who wants to help but doesn't quite know what to do. Both use clowning techniques to keep the tone light and illustrate the characters' vulnerabilities.

Without the third persona, Sistahl, Mess would be a very different play. Sat in the corner dressed in a fancy military style jacket with a keyboard, a microphone and a laptop, Seirol Davies provides the music, the songs and his own unique sound effects.

He is also hilarious. Whenever the play threatens to be serious, Sistahl either provides some over-dramatic music, or launches into a made-up song about Josephine's condition.

Mess mixes the ridiculous with a dark and irreverent humour, to produce something really impressive – an enjoyable and moving show about living with an eating disorder.

– Joanna Ing