Mess Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
China Plate
Alex Swift (director), Fiammetta Horvat (design), Andy Purves (Lighting)
Caroline Horton (Josephine), Hannah Boyde (Boris), Seiriol Davies (Sistahl)
Running time

Inspired by the true wartime stories of her grandmother in Paris, Caroline Horton wrote her one woman play, “You’re Not Like the Other Girls, Chrissie” for which she won the Best Solo Performer award (The Stage 2010). 

Now she has turned to her own experience of suffering from Anorexia Nervosa to create a bold, brash comedy as an imaginative way to investigate the secret, private world of this eating disorder.  

The concept is that of a workshop rehearsal for staging the real play. Horton plays Josephine, an anorexic girl, aided and abetted by her best friend at University, the ever smiling, happy go lucky Boris. At the keyboards is Sistahl, a wild haired, wide eyed buffoon of a musician, singer and Master of Ceremonies. Welcome to the cabaret, this circus of clowns.

In the intimate black box of Traverse 2, the stage is partly covered in a white carpet of bath mats, with a step ladder leading up to Josephine’s attic bedroom. Here she hides under the soft feather duvet in her nest, her comfort zone where she can escape. 

As we learn through her personal testimony,  the act of starvation is a powerful weapon, which separates you from other people, from social interaction.  Nothing can be done spontaneously, on a whim. She avoids going out with Boris for a pizza, and we see her struggle to eat even one apple.

The word eating disorder is perhaps a misnomer when anorexia is about a life of order and discipline.

Withdrawing into oneself, an anorexic changes personality, they put on a performance, lying to parents and friends, being deceitful about how little food they eat and how much exercise is endured. The sufferer wears a mask, pretending all’s fine and dandy.

With her long, girly Alice in Wonderland hair and pretty dress, Josephine often appears like a doll, with a quiet stillness, a distant expression on her face. Bumbling along beside her, she is cajoled by the caring Boris, (portrayed with enthusiastic glee by Hannah Boyde), like a stooge in their crazy double act.

The director of Mess, Alex Swift and Caroline Horton both trained at the Ecole Philippe Gaulier, who is regarded as the master of teaching classic comedy and clowning.  Using these skills, exaggerated mime and gesture, songs and verbal sound effects, the trio emerge as a music hall troupe of entertainers.

Despite the subject matter, this is a not a bleak, black observation of a psychiatric illness. Conversely, expect satirical jokes, raucous singing and improvised play acting. It’s all a bit of a mish mash of theatrical devices which sidetracks the aim of the play which is “ to encourage greater understanding of the experiences of both sufferers and carers .. . to talk more openly about the illness.”

Caroline Horton is a remarkable, incisive actress and playwright. As a performer, she wears the mask of an anorexic sufferer, tentatively touching on the obsession and despair.  Within this play, submerged under the comic relief, the painful, emotional experience of her isolated hungry hell and long journey to recovery could create a convincing and heartfelt one woman show.

Show times

2 - 26 August (not 13, 20)  different times each day, see Fringe programme


£17-£19 (£ 12  (concession) /£6 (unemployed).