One of the highlights of last year’s theatre calendar in Bristol was Caroline Horton’s one-woman show You’re Not Like The Other Girls, Chrissy. It was a genuine joy from start to finish: it was uplifting and it was touching, and Caroline herself is clearly a very gifted and imaginative performer.
So when I heard that she was bringing her second show, Mess, to the Bristol Old Vic, I knew I needed to see it. And Caroline didn’t disappoint.
Although a show about her personal experiences of anorexia doesn’t necessarily sound like fun, Mess proves that Caroline has the rare talent of taking a stigmatised and often misunderstood mental illness and turning it into an enjoyable, informative and, shock, entertaining piece.
In Mess, Josephine (Caroline’s character) is supported on stage by Boris (played by Hannah Boyde) and musician Sistahl (played by Seiriol Davies). Both supporting cast members are inspired choices, providing ways to externalise Josephine’s thought processes, and bringing much needed light relief to what would otherwise be a deadly serious topic.
Sistahl, in particular, is a creation of comic genius. With Sideshow Bob hair, and a Liberace costume, Sistahl is positioned behind a bank of keyboards and laptops, and flanked by a mock Roman pillar and a billowing spider plant. In addition to the music, he voices Josephine’s thoughts, he provides sound effects, and he pulls brilliantly funny faces. The absolute highlight is his impersonation of an idiotic and uncomprehending GP: “It’s a lovely day, why don’t you have a strawberry Cornetto. Just a tiny one.” You cannot fail to adore Sistahl.
While the Boris character flits between being cloyingly protective of Josephine, and devastatingly kind towards her, there’s also something a bit irritating about the character. I feel horrible saying it. I don’t know if it’s the bizarre Roy Chubby Brown-style flying hat, or the jolly-hockey-sticks style of speech… or maybe we’re meant to find Boris irritating, in the way that Josephine would have found him irritating in his determination to help her. I don’t know. However, through Boris, Hannah does an excellent job at countering Josephine’s serious nature.
With Mess, Caroline is putting herself on the line by sharing her valuable first-hand experience of an illness that is often so devastating, and of demonstrating how much it affects those around the patient as well. It’s an important work, and one that has been carefully delivered – it’s no surprise to hear that the eating disorders organisation Beat was involved with the production.
Please go to see Mess. Caroline Horton is a name to watch.
Mess is on at Bristol Old Vic until 27 April. Click here for information and to book tickets. For information about other Mess dates around the UK, please click here.