By accident rather than design, I ended up seeing two plays in succession featuring teenage girl protagonists: The Diary of a Hounslow Girl at Stratford Circus, followed by Strawberry Starburst at the Blue Elephant Theatre. Different in many ways, what they have in common is that they are both superb.
The subject of Strawberry Starburst is eating disorders. Young teenager Shez is a confident, happy young girl, who loves dancing, as well as going on long drives with her dad and stopping off to buy her favourite sweets – Starburst – at the garage. Then, her dad leaves home, and she stops dancing. When her mother suggests that she might be putting on weight, she embarks upon a major diet and exercise routine, and her state of mind isn’t helped by the fact that her boyfriend is cheating on her. Shez’s eating disorder creeps up on her slowly, until she is hospitalised and faces a long recovery.
Strawberry Starburst is an uncomfortable watch: it’s not easy to see bright, vivacious Shez fade away before our eyes. Maryam Grace’s performance is tremendous, drawing us into her world, helping us try and understand how a normal healthy teenager could develop an eating disorder. Bram Davidovich’s writing is strong, taking us on an immense journey during the play’s short running time.
Strawberry Starburst is a powerful, effective work which deals with an important subject sensitively. I certainly hope it has a life beyond its short fringe run, as it deserves to be seen by a wider audience.