Review: Mess, Traverse Theatre

Mess by Caroline Horton, presented by China Plate at the Traverse Theatre, looks at anorexia through the whimsical and light-hearted tale of Josephine (Horton herself) and Boris (Hannah Boyde). Both students at university, it is made clear to the audience that there is no place to hide from this tale, that anorexia blights Josephine’s life and Boris desperately wants to help her. There’s musical accompaniment and songs delivered by Sistahl, played by Seiriol Davies, making Mess as much as possible a hearty and charming production tackling a dark and depressing subject matter. And here is where I struggle with Mess: for all its charm and smiles, I felt cold and removed from the work; anorexia here is not presented with gripping drama of tears and tantrums, but like candy floss that dissolves on your tongue. It is light and airy, almost unattainable. With so much lightness I wish that I could find more substance within Horton’s writing, but this I couldn’t.

Josephine defies the need to eat, her body rejecting the food and in return she awards herself medals, whilst Boris, a desperate and heartfelt romantic wants nothing more than to make Josephine better. Together they travel through anorexia, to a hospital to bring Josephine closer to her eating disorder, and through their friendship she becomes healthier. If there is one message that shines through Mess it is that we are never truly happy nor healthy, that even the happiest person alive still has their problems, and this, for what it’s worth, makes us who we are. Whilst it may not sound the happiest of messages, it is one that carries much weight beneath the fluffiness of Mess.

Whilst the general glee of Mess was short lived, there’s no denying that the cast of three charm their way into your hearts. Horton’s Josephine is dreamlike but strong, and Boyde’s Boris is every bit of a buffoon but we love her for it. Davies’s Sistahl is an ever looming presence behind keyboards and laptops, offering a chuckle of musical delight. China Plate have envisaged Horton’s play with vigour and under the direction of Alex Swift, brought a piece that charms and chuckles through the otherwise dark subject matter. Perhaps for what it is worth it is good to see such an untouched subject matter be given space on the stage and not brought down with heaviness.

Whilst it didn’t tickle me quite as much as expected, there is joy to be found in Horton’s Mess. It might portray a clinical and all-teeth-and-smiles approach to anorexia but the fact that such a subject is explored should be praised. It might be too airy and dreamlike for this stoned heart, but audiences are clearly enjoying the whimsical nature of the show.

Mess is playing at the Traverse Theatre as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 26th August. For more information and tickets, see the Traverse Theatre website.

Originally published on A Younger Theatre.