Gabriel Cagan (pictured) and Rose Reade star in this emotional two-handerAtri Banerjee

At the kitchen table, Michael (Gabriel Cagan) silently works on his Sudoku. Tessa (Rose Reade) storms in. “You’re an idiot”, she shouts. Having heard that he has stopped eating again, Tessa returns to force him back to health. Michael has slipped back into old habits, and because everything else has failed to work, Tessa announces a new approach. “If you don’t eat, I won’t either.”

Tessa prepares meal after meal, only for the pair to prod the food in silence before its inevitable removal to the bin or sink. Plates pile up around the kitchen and the already drab setting becomes increasingly miserable. But wry humour flows throughout the energetic opening scenes, and although slightly wooden at first, Cagan and Reade soon loosen into their roles and find their own brand of chemistry. 

Reade seems to truly revel in her role as bitter ex-wife, while both equally enjoy the freedom to raise their voices and turn up the pressure. The on-stage couple nearly masters those uncomfortably silent moments. However, in a play that is fundamentally about denial and abstinence, they could make even more of those still fragments. 

With a dynamic opening scene and an astoundingly dramatic conclusion, the middle of the play falls flat. Yet, as the food wastes away and the layers of clothing are shed (and the weight they presumably signify), the tapering energy feels deliberate. “This is dull”, Tessa declares, commenting on the boredom, or ‘ennui’, that defines Michael’s daily life as an anorexia addict. While never boring their audience, Reade and Cagan show that anorexia is exceptionally tedious. 

Playwright Isley Lynn’s script iterates and reiterates that anorexia is an addiction. “I’m a smoker”, Tessa remarks. “I’m an anorexic”, Michael responds. During the play’s quieter moments, Michael attempts to explain his rationale, revealing facets of the disease not typically included in the contemporary dialogue. As his abstinence from eating falls into a smooth sequence with his TV watching and sittings of Sudoku, Lynn exposes how the addiction becomes behavioural. Her accurate depiction of one man’s battle with his obsessive behaviour and withdrawal from the world is what makes this play bold, important, and irrefutably worthy of this second run. 

In the final scene, when the violence subdues and the fridge light illuminates the couple, we are reminded of the tremendous efforts of the production team. From the running water to the hauntingly effective song list (“Baby, aren't you hungry?/ I could give you codeine”), the set design, sound and lighting all work to achieve the naturalistic effect Director Robbie Taylor Hunt pursues. 

While the play calls attention to the disease, focusing on the eating disorder alone would prove reductive. Sensitively achieved, anorexia and the eating contest function more as a plot device, creating a stressful and painful environment where emotions can run exhaustively high. When anorexia is removed from the equation, this is a play about a ruined marriage, a relationship ripped to shreds by the unimaginable loss of a young child. The eating contest twists their minds and pushes their bodies to the play’s climax, where the hard-to-watch physical violence and force-feeding are a realistic response to the play’s complex intertwining of grief, loss, and starvation.