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Measured (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: Measured

Society: West End & Fringe

Venue: The Hope Theatre. The Hope Theatre is an award-winning 50-seat venue above the world-famous Hope and Anchor pub. 207 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 1RL

Credits: By Emma O’Brien. Produced by Laurel Marks.



3 stars

It is hard for someone who is fortunate enough not to have an eating disorder to get any kind of real grip on how it feels to have one. Emma O’Brien’s debut play does more to bridge that comprehension gap than any drama I’ve seen before. She has, I’m not surprised to read, come through an eating disorder herself and her three hander play certainly packs an authoritative punch.

Sophie (Juliette Burton) has been sectioned for a long time but is now being discharged from hospital. Her much younger half-sister Lucy (April Hughes) has a few problems at school and her relationship with Sophie is complicated. Tom (Aaron Phinehas Peters) is Sophie’s decent, supportive boyfriend, desperate to understand but struggling.  Other characters such as the mother of Lucy and Sophie and a friend named Lauren are developed by implication.The play is structured as a series of scenes, mostly duologues but sometimes all three are on stage and there are some strong-ish monologues. Although these three actors play off each other quite sparkily and every word feels natural and truthful the opening scene is weak. Sophie and Lucy are both on stage, each speaking to an unseen listener but not to each other. It’s effectively intercutting monologues and a clumsy, confusing way of setting up the play.

Burton’s nuanced performance makes Sophie brittle, prickly and intelligent, constantly scuppering her own position so that she finds no peace although the ending is hopeful, if not quite happy. “It isn’t about food”  she says more than once as O’Brien focuses firmly on the psychology of mental illness rather than on the physical symptoms of anorexia nervosa. In fact she overdoes this a little. Had I not read the programme first it would have been some time before I worked out the precise nature of Sophie’s illness.

April Hughes is totally believable as a conscientious but feisty and sometimes troubled fourteen year old. She is charismatic on stage and has a delicious, chirpy sense of comic timing. Peters is good as Tom too: gentle but sometimes understandably hurt or annoyed. He is forever doing practical helpful things such as cooking eggs or listening attentively.

This thoughtful – and thought-provoking –  play is part of the Measured Festival at the Hope Theatre which is working with two charities: Rethink Mental Illness and Beat Easting Disorders.

First published by Sardines:

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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