Review: ★★★ Hear Me Raw, Arcola Theatre

Hear Me Raw is a one-woman autobiographical play performed by its writer Daniella Isaacs and directed by Rosy Banham, who together form the new writing theatre company LIPSINK.

We meet Green Girl: the successful young woman who has become a hype through her wellness blog and clean eating book. Ella, as Daniella now calls herself, is everything millennials have always wanted to be – healthy, successful, and in possession of abs – and tonight she is giving us a talk on Clean Living.

The play starts with Daniella convincingly asking us if we mind waiting just one minute longer, as her mother, who was supposed to be here and came a long way, is running late, and she would hate for her to miss the beginning. The audience members, of which about 90% are female, are left wondering (sometimes audibly) whether this is ‘part of it’ or not. It will turn out to be, but for now the show moves on without Ella’s mother, as she starts presenting a series of slides on Clean Eating, while preparing a batch of ‘bliss balls’ which are then passed around (and taste very ‘clean’ indeed).

Soon afterwards, however, Green Girl’s act begins to crack, and with an increasing speed, the truth behind her perfectly controlled life is unravelled, until by the end we see a mentally ill, broken girl, who has disconnected from her family, boyfriend and friends. The main issue with the plot is that once the story starts going downhill (which happens about ten minutes into the show), the rest of the narrative is quite predictable, and there are few surprises.

Ella’s lows are well-executed, however, with her snorting turmeric and frantically downing a beetroot smoothie, spilling half of it over her t-shirt and on the floor, at its climax. Her increasing mental instability is illustrated beautifully by a series of voice-overs by her relatives that seem to come from opened pots of Matcha, smoothie-blenders or mini-fridges.

The minimalistic set design – almost everything happens around a table on which Ella prepares food – and robust atmosphere of the Arcola’s studio theatre go together well, and although the stage lighting seems a little harsh sometimes, the light that spills out from various props throughout the play is a nice stylistic addition.

Autobiographical solo shows are always at risk of feeling a tad self-indulgent, and while the largest part of Hear Me Raw did a good job in avoiding that sensation, the ending seemed a little overstretched and unnecessary.

Overall, the writing was good; occasionally humorous and often insightful. Daniella Isaacs is a confident performer and switches easily from the bubbly Green Girl, who knows it all, to the vulnerable, hurting Daniella. Her lows feel real, and though the play never becomes preachy, there is definitely an implied take-home message. A very relevant play in this day and age (to which the gender imbalance in the audience might testify), and one that certainly deserves praise for its skilful performance and courage.

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