The Fasting Girl presents an interesting concept which takes on a strange turn.
CW: Reference to eating disorders.
Eva has refused to eat for weeks and refuses to explain why to her mother, Brigid. That is until Dana, a doctor specialising in eating disorders comes to visit with a different approach to others who have urged Eva to eat. Part of NST City’s current Make it SO festival (which reaches out to local artists in Southampton and Hampshire), Rachel O’Neill’s The Fasting Girl provides us with a refreshing take on our relationship with food, spirituality, and activism through unexpected means.
The mother and the doctor spend much of the 40 minutes on stage speculating why this young woman continues to fast even though she is clearly weakening and is aware that she may die from this. Trudi Licence’s role as Eva was a tough one that started with a whimsicality that I did not anticipate; she would talk scarcely talk and would resort to long-winded allegories when prompted, most of which surrounding nature and ethereal creatures being displaced or harmed by the greed and sloppiness of humans. Each fairytale presented our tendency as humans to cut corners and resort to violent means when we do not get our own way. It is not until the Dana and Eva are alone on stage that Eva expresses her true feelings towards her fast, which range from the pressure of the following on social media she has gained from her stunt, to finally explaining why she is fasting in the first place.
I thought that Heather Bradford’s role as Brigid, the mother who could not understand why her daughter was doing this, among other devastating revelations, was an excellent touch that showed a lot of empathy on O’Neill’s part. She could not separate Eva’s fasting away from the effect it was having on her, concluding that this was her daughter punishing her. However, I did want to see this relationship go further to dissect why Brigid concluded that this would be a punishment.
The denouement of the play bit away at me for a reason that I found hard to shift as the tone of the play moved towards the dire need for action with regards to climate change, which ends up being the reason behind the fasting all along. The fairytales that Eva uses to express how much humans abuse the planet and animals is very enlightening and provides a poetic feel to the play which means there are several smooth explanations for the fast are implied from the off. Dana reveals that she is one of the fairy folk that Eva speaks of in her stories, and decides to march with her on the condition that she eats in order to give herself the strength to lead in the activism. It is this enchantment of the play’s ending that gives me mixed feelings. It is Dana’s identity reveal that leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
While it fits in with the magical theme to the tales that are continuously disregarded by Brigid, I find it slightly in poor taste to have to resort to magical creatures to add some foresight into the climate emergency. Many groups of people, such as the numerous indigenous activists in the Americas who have struggled for climate decades before the current momentum that we are making the most of had shown itself (Autumn Peltier in Canada and Artemisa Xakriabá in Brazil to name a couple of individuals). I understand that from the perspective of a local audience in Southampton, it may take a supernatural element to express the urgency of the climate emergency. To me, there was no need to bring the disenchanted woodland folk into the equation in order to convey the need for solidarity on an issue that is a lived reality to human beings already.
Overall, I enjoyed the play, and I particularly enjoyed the allusions to our ancestors’ famines (the Irish potato famine being the one in focus) compared to our insatiable greed. However, I had to wonder if the runtime of the show really accommodated how much was being squashed into 40 minutes, and how appropriate the magical realism really was considering the theme.