BY BETH ALLISON
Suzanna Walters’ Eat Me is, ‘too amazing’, it took me an hour to say this because the play had stunned me into silence. It stunned me because, after thirteen years of chronic anorexia nervosa and three ongoing years of recovering, this play is unrivalled in its raw honesty and searing accuracy in depicting what it is to suffer from the most insidious, destructive illness I have ever known.
Unlike other dramatic productions that attempt to narrativize anorexia yet succeed only in its grotesque glorification such as Netflix’s To The Bone, Eat Me is ‘too amazing’ in that it does exactly what a production that cites itself as ‘a play about anorexia’ should do. To someone who suffers or has suffered from anorexia, it voices the most lacerating thoughts that hold you captive and illustrates the raw, unglamourised reality of their consequences. To someone who, thankfully, has never experienced these thoughts first-hand, it gives unparalleled insight into the internal psychological turmoil that accompanies the outwardly starving body.
In her characters, Walters does a stellar job in portraying the vast variety of circumstances that can lead to anorexia regardless of gender, age, or socio-economic status. Libby, an intelligent young girl from an ‘idyllic’ family who at the crux of things is so overwhelmed with the prospect of an independent future that she retreats into the safe ‘glass bubble’ of anorexia. Jonathan, a young man whose descent into anorexia begins with being the target of school bullies. Kate, ridden with a lifelong anxiety that leaves her extremely adverse to eating and results in chronic anorexia that is only overcome through carrying and raising a baby with the support of her loving husband. The congregation of these three in a self-established peer support group sees their stories intersect; Libby and Jonathan are inspired by Kate’s account of abandoning the chains of anorexia and are determined to try to do the same themselves.
It is the fourth character that gives Eat Me its unique remarkability: Anorexia, powerfully portrayed by Walters herself. Casting Anorexia as this externalised, physical character gives Eat Me its sinister yet most insightful dimension. From my recovering perspective, Anorexia’s sadistic commentary on how she zeroes in on her victims filled me with such rage that I wanted nothing more than to march onto that stage and strangle this uncanny physical realisation of the monster that tortured me for so many years. From an external perspective, I am certain that this materialisation of Anorexia as a character on the stage gives the greatest insight and understanding into being constantly shackled to the hideous shadow that is anorexia.
As writer and a person who herself has suffered from severe anorexia, Suzanna Walters deserves uncapped credit for articulating the experience of anorexia in a way that speaks to both sufferers and family/friends/others who wish to learn more about this impossible illness. Walters captures the indescribable suffering of being held prisoner by anorexia as an individual, as well as the extremely distorted and highly-strung politics of being a patient on an eating disorder ward. This is not without its comedy – Jonathan stuffing a whole baked potato down his sleeve and discussing its mysterious disappearance from his plate with the supervising nurse. The most resonating statement comes from Jonathan, who describes the artificiality of mealtimes on the ward: patients are expected to sit nicely and make engaging conversation whilst going through torturous. For someone without anorexia, this situation is probably the equivalent of being expected to smile and make small-talk while your entire body is being relentlessly battered by an army of razor-sharp hammers.
Eat Me is the play about anorexia. Suzanna Walters has created a play that everyone should see. It should be showcased in schools, on training courses, anywhere where eating disorder education and awareness is needed – and, let’s face it, that is pretty much everywhere.
Felicity Huxley-Miners (Libby), Roslyn Paterson (Kate) and Dan Richardson (Jonathan) perfectly embody their characters and the turbulent nightmare that anorexia shackles them with. They are a credit to the writing, executing everything from body language to intonation with the superior care and insight that such characters deserve.