Close To You

Fri 9th – Wed 14th August 2013

reviews

Jazz Adamson

at 02:10 on 11th Aug 2013

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A play concerning body image and fame is one susceptible to cliché, yet ‘Close To You’ is raw and direct. The audience is delivered the spectacle of a young woman falling apart and a vision of her disturbingly warped image of herself. The towering mirrors flanking either side of the stage like guards reinforced this theme of image and perception; we were witnesses to her break-down yet so was she – watching her demise but unable to prevent it.

The young woman is Jennie Eggleton and she weaves together story-telling and acting to produce a spellbinding performance. This production is wholly convincing: female mannequins, showing off impossible proportions, are placed around the stage, and in the background there are huge lights like the light bulbs around a dressing table mirror. Jennie desperately wants to be famous and beautiful and the audience surely understands why; the set is seductive, glamorous.

The desperation slowly sets in, and we see her issues around food emerge. There are several powerful scenes that avoid being overplayed: for example, when she begins to manically pull at and punch herself in front of the mirror, when she retches after a small bite of quiche, or when her laugh turns into sobbing at her first appointment with a therapist. However, the most moving moments are those when she plays other people, as we get a sense of how she must have seemed to others (such as when her mum begs her to eat a brownie in a coffee shop). Jennie switches from the lead to these characters without a glitch.

More than anything this performance seems deeply personal. Jennie shares with us her adoration of Karen Carpenter, using her knowledge of this 70s pop star to think of her like a best friend (she talks of having “Karen on [her] side”) and a security blanket, someone who she wishes could wrap her up and tell her everything was ok. This is an uneasy relationship for the audience to digest, since Karen Carpenter died of a condition brought on by anorexia nervosa.

Jennie’s performance manages to be sincere without being solemn. It gained the empathy of the audience without seeming even to try – this was partly down to Jennie’s ability to show nuanced emotion and partly down to the dialogue, which was low key and understated. The production did not show enough variety to make it to 5 stars, but were it possible it would certainly deserve four and a half.

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Helena Blackstone

at 10:06 on 11th Aug 2013

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Jennie longs to be a star, to be loved. If you have ever wondered whether a sufferer of anorexia nervosa can look in the mirror and think she looks good, all skin and bones, the answer is no. But for Jennie that’s the beauty of it: she grows to look so grotesquely alien, that she feels she might be able to escape herself and become that star she has always longed to be, become Karen Carpenter. Much of this performance reflects the doubled nature of her illness. Moments of seeming jubilation are tinged at the edges with our knowledge of her delusion, and laughter regularly dissolves into tears.

We quickly realise that her obsession with the idea of transforming into Karen, a figure who she describes as her idol and her saviour, is synonymous with the dark allure of her disease and the hold it has over her very personality. At one point her obsession with the transformation into Karen has taken hold of her reality so strongly that she renames a girl in the hospital who is more ill than her, as “Karen”. And when this girl is gone from her hospital bed, died in the night, there is a haunting moment in which Jennie is at a loss as to why no one will tell her what happened to “Karen”.

This being a one-woman show, she has to play all other characters, which she does so through different costumes and accents. Most impressive of all, however, was when she enacts a conversation with her therapist, differentiating between the two characters simply by dramatically relaxing her features and softening her eyes, so that we suddenly realise the manic edge that there has been to every moment of her performance of Jennie.

The set enhances the dark underside of her performance: movie star dressing room mirror lights, which one might initially see as the bright lights of a glamorous life, but for the warped mirrors on either side of her, black paint oozing down them.

Written by the actress, the complex script with its subtly interwoven themes is what makes this production outstanding. Though many of those in the audience will never have gone through the same thought processes of someone with such a severe eating disorder, her descriptions were so honest, true and beautifully written that one is given a real snapshot inside the head of this disease.

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