[2012108] Spoonface Steinberg

[2012108] Spoonface Steinberg

Boo Dwyer @ Bakehouse Theatre – Studio

7:30pm, Fri 9 Mar 2012

There’s usually a couple of shows every Fringe that capture the punters’ interest, that make such an impact that word-of-mouth almost feels mandatory; one Fringe-going couple that I encountered at several events (starting with The Boy James) had raved with such intensity about Spoonface Steinberg that, had it not already been on my Shortlist, I would’ve been convinced to include it. But, given the amount of buzz I have felt for this show, there’s a disappointing turnout for this Friday-night session: the small Studio would’ve only been a third full.

Spoonface is a young, autistic girl with terminal cancer… that doesn’t sound like a basis for an uplifting story, and for the most part the show remains in this slightly grim realm. Spoonface – clad in grubby pyjamas, thick socks, and the beanie that signifies the chemo-ridden child – tells the story of herself and those around her in short scenes, separated by blackout; these vignettes are contemplative to the point of slowness, due partly to Spoonface’s condition, but also due to her detailed observations of those that surround her – the guilty mother, philandering father, her doctor, and the housekeeper that gives her the affection and stimulation she needs. A fascination with opera and a recognition of her impending death colour all these scenes.

As the play progresses, Spoonface’s monologue focusses more on the spiritual – she sees her condition as a gift from God and, as death becomes inevitable, she starts wondering faith and philosophy… heady thoughts for a child. And the final few scenes are just beautiful, with the child using wonderfully evocative language, building upon the idea of a unified oneness in nothingness.

Boo Dwyer (also known as Mrs Mickey D) puts in an absolute blinder as Spoonface – there’s a measured sense of gravitas to her portrayal, with an immense amount of fine detail – the compulsive movements of her fingers were a great touch. As Spoonface’s condition deteriorates, her face seems to become paler, more drawn – it’s a really remarkable performance.

Unfortunately, Lee Hall’s script is a bit uneven. Even taking the logical inconsistency of a small child being so deeply observant and philosophical about life, religion, and relationships, the pacing is almost lethargic at times: some scenes are extremely contemplative with no progression of plot or understanding, and – after over one hundred shows in this Fringe – I was really struggling to stay awake through some of those slower moments.

But that takes nothing away from the power of Dwyer’s performance; it really is a wonderful effort. Trim out a couple of those largely inconsequential bits, though, and there’d be a stunning and impactful show in Spoonface Steinberg.

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