Belle is a successful young woman. She’s doing OK at school; she’s head girl, she has friends, she’s maybe not quite as cool as she thinks she is – but she’s doing alright. But actually, something isn’t quite right. Belle is on edge and dissatisfied with herself, thinking about how that dress didn’t quite fit, the comment that boy made about her. Something cracks her fragility and she is in the grip of a new obsession.
Eat Your Heart Out opens with a view into Belle’s everyday life. Her journey to school on the bus is a superbly executed ensemble piece, and very funny – the phones, the chatter, the boys, the music, Beyonce. We learn much about her in this clever introduction. Her journal becomes a motif for her progress through her teenage years, recording coming-of-age reflections on pets, boyfriends and music festivals; but then also an obsessive catalogue of Belle’s diet, as her eating disorder grips.
Whilst the portrayal of Belle’s life at school and her interactions with friends and boyfriends is handled very well, it takes a long time to get to the crux of the plot – the struggle with the eating disorder – and then things happen very quickly. We also lose a little insight into Belle around this time; the play up to then has been very much her point of view, but for a while here we see her as others see her. I wanted to know more of what it is like to be Belle in the grip of her obsession, and before intervention.
There is a curious irony – I’m not sure if it is intended or not – that although the suggested triggers for Belle’s eating disorder include some unkind comments from other people, she herself is is really quite cruel to putative boyfriend Liam. I suspect this is there to stress Belle’s independence and strength, and how even someone as apparently strong as her can be brought low. But it does jar.
A couple of scenes take place on the floor, and the director should have realised that in this particular venue, only the first couple of rows would be able to see what is going on. From my vantage point I could see virtually nothing without half-standing. Fortunately what I missed was a sex scene, which is cringe-worthy for reasons other than those intended.
There is much to admire about this production, but it falls into the classic trap of issue led devised theatre: ticking off the points that need to be made, but getting distracted from the necessity to engage. However, there's no doubt this is a very talented company, and it's a thoughtful exploration of a problem that is sadly all too common.