Sunday, June 30, 2013

Review - Spoonface Steinberg - People's Theatre

Spoonface Steinberg

28th June 2013

Freerange Theatre Company

Originally a radio play, Spoonface Steinberg was Lee Hall's breakthrough play, (he is better known by most people now for Billy Elliot and more recently War Horse) This play is a monologue by an eight year old autistic girl, terminally ill with cancer. When Mike asked me to go along to review it I had lots of questions in my head - would it be uplifting or depressing? How could a monologue for radio translate to the stage? Could an adult portray an eight year old autistic child and make it believable? Would I need a pack of tissues?

The play was performed in the gallery - a very small, very intimate space. The scene set as a hospital room, complete with bed and screens, and the audience's seats were ranged around it, only two rows deep and very close to the set. Actually, in the set as it happens. We chose our seats, the play was introduced by the Director Hugo Chandor, the lights dimmed and the actress entered and climbed into the hospital bed.

Any doubt that we would be watching an adult pretending to be a child disappeared as soon as Rebecca Fenwick began to act. She didn't simply act out a role, she became an eight year old girl. Her gestures, facial expressions, her reactions to the audience were completely childlike and natural. Even before she began to speak, I suspect there was not a person in the audience who was not completely convinced that we were in the company of a child.

We were moved to laughter and tears at Spoonface's description of her parent's relationship, and it's break-up, her mother's vodka, and her father's floosie, the hospital visits and the doctors verdicts (Spoonface would die and there was nothing to be done), of her conversations with the cleaning lady, Mrs Spud. Everything recounted with the ingenuous, fatalistic innocence of a child.

Integral to the play is the opera that Spoonface listens to - of the "woman singing about the dying".  Spoonface's conversations with adults have taught her about hope and faith and courage, but the opera has taught her that the dying can be beautiful.

This is an astounding piece of theatre: a play about the philosophy of life and death, faith and religion, about the terrible things that are inflicted on us by nature and by other men. But more than anything it is about hope and beauty and courage and love.

It is undoubtedly the best piece of drama I have experienced.

The tour continues until July 19th ending at the Buxton Fringe Festival. Details are available on the Freerange website . If you are able to get to any of these performances then do so - you will experience something astonishing.

Denise Sparrowhawk

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