Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Recovered anorexic and unabashed attention seeker, Helen Duff can’t help making light of heavy issues. Biting back at the stigma and silence surrounding anorexia, Vanity Bites Back is a personal take on a parasitic illness.
Yes this is a comedy about anorexia,
Anorexia is sadly still a rather taboo subject, so it is wonderful to find a show which seeks to open up a conversation about an issue that gains strength from silence. Proving once and for all: skeletons are far too funny to be kept in your closet.
A deep muffled voice calls from backstage,a tall,slender elegant woman bounces out to greet us,the warm and bubbly Jill (Helen Duff) , a somewhat 1950’s Stepford house wife.
We are welcomed to observe a pilot episode for Jill Granger’s Cooking Show, wit is passed out as freely as the biscuits.
“So ,Lets Get Cooking with Jill” she exclaims. Jill shuffles around the stage collecting utensils to bake her famous cheesecake, comparing herself to Nigel la Lawson, emphasising to the audience that she sees herself as food, indulgent and decadent. Her bubbly banter distracting the audience with ‘normality’, while her physical choices manifest the disturbing signs of a dangerous relationship with the enemy, food.
We watch Jill obsessively and meticulously collect biscuit crumbs from the bench in front of her, the attention to detail in this moment was disturbing.
This elegant, doll-like woman, whom greeted us has begun to dissipate, the paranoia of the audiences gaze sets in " Id like you to stop looking at me now" she asks, Helen Duff performs this gentle decent quite superbly. Through the duration of this episodic show, we are pulled to the depths of this woman’s frosted sadness, a sugar coated struggle with all the trimmings.
Just the tonic at caves, is an unusual venue , the damp surrounding and minimal lighting making it a challenge for any performer, not to mention the padded red roof, makes you feel like you’re stuck inside a coffin. This does not detract from the performance however, duff incorporates the obscurity of the venue into her storey.
This is a true and personal account of a very serious struggle, and Duff has done so in such a way that keeps her audience intrigued, and empathetic to a problem that often falls on deaf ears.
The characters weaknesses and the vulnerability of this storey had me welling up, although Helen is also her own comic relief, just when you think “its time to cry” , you erupt into a belly laugh, only to think quickly – “No, wait! That’s not funny! Don’t laugh”
For a show which finds its charm in surprise and what I’m sure is primarily improvised, I found that these scenes often distracted from the wonderful rhythm that was being established, losing the audience’s attention. I believe the performance could benefit from less of these lapses in structure.
There were also several sound and technical choices that seemed odd, (intentional mistakes) of which I also found did not contribute to the overall performance.
Minor criticisms and slight shames aside, this a cleverly thought out script with heart. On leaving the show I felt thoroughly entertained, Helen Duff is a very talented storey teller, a clown, comedian and Actress rolled into one charming , wide eyed bundle of talent.
I highly Recommend Vanity Bites back to anyone looking for powerful new writing, where you’ll surely get your cake and eat it too.