Saturday, 2 February 2013

Lean - review

Written by: Ed Theakston (@EdTheakston)

Tristan Bates Theatre, London

Written by Isley Lynn, a graduate of both the Royal Court and the National Theatre Aftershocks young writers’ programmes, Lean is an incredibly powerful piece of new writing. Lynn puts front and centre the subject of male anorexia, and treats it sensitively while managing to be informative.

Lynn’s high-tension drama is a detailed, frank and uncompromising examination of anorexia. Set entirely in what becomes a rather claustrophobic kitchen, Tessa, played by Laura Hanna, arrives back at the house of her estranged husband Michael, Tim Dorsett, for the first time in a year. She thinks she has found a quick cure for Michael; she will eat as he eats, mouthful by mouthful, in the hope that he will change to save her as apparently he won’t change to save himself. It becomes a fraught standoff between a seasoned pro and a first-timer, a brilliant concept. It becomes a stark reflection on our connections with each other and with food.

Photo: Richard Lakos
It takes a little time for the actors to warm up so it is difficult to connect with them. They apparently have very little to talk about other than food and Tessa’s self-satisfied belief that without her, he will fall apart, and this possibly goes on a little too long and becomes slightly wearing. Just as it does, though, there is a shift in tone and an unexpected twist emerges. This gradual revelation and continued ambiguity is ultimately very effective, in a way reminiscent of BAFTA winning writer Nick Thorne.

There are some absolutely beautiful touches from director Chelsea Walker. Clothes are shed as weight is lost and sexual tension is built to breaking point. Tessa makes a series of meals, which appear as if by magic in the oven. Amplifying the sounds of the oven door closing, and then inevitably the bin lid opening, is a touch of genius. The sound design from Robert Donnelly-Jackson is striking, and Neill Brinkworth’s lighting design is effective throughout. Holly Pigott’s wonderfully naturalistic set design works perfectly, and the moments of heightened theatricality sit perfectly in it.

Laura Hanna gives a splendid performance. She captures the slow deterioration of Tessa as she forces herself into anorexia. There are some beautiful moments between the two, particularly Tim Dorsett’s imploring line “I can’t get better. You must know that? So stop asking me to.” Dorsett’s performance is well pitched, and both capture the subtle, dark humour of the piece.

The true star of the show is Isley Lynn’s script. It is staggeringly powerful, emotionally frank and does justice to a complex issue. Lean is an important play, and this is a brilliant production of it. Lynn has a bright future ahead. 

This production runs until 23 February 2013. 

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