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Review: SCRUFFY, The Hen & Chickens Theatre

Review: SCRUFFY, The Hen & Chickens Theatre

A one-woman production with heart and fire kicks off Camden Fringe.

Review: SCRUFFY, The Hen & Chickens Theatre Trigger Warning: This review discusses sensitive topics, such as adolescent eating disorders.

As the audience step through the doors at The Hen & Chickens Theatre, they're no longer in a theatre - they're in 9-year-old Maisie's bedroom. But don't worry, she's been expecting guests -after all, why else would she have her 3 best pairs of sunglasses lined up for show and tell?

As you settle into Maisie's "quite massive" bedroom, she tells you everything about her life, from her special skills (such as gymnastics, curling her tongue, and singing) to details about her family. However, as the play unravels, it's clear that she's dealing with issues beyond her young years: She doesn't go to school and she only gets to see her family at the weekend. She's also wearing a feeding tube. Over time, it becomes clear that Maisie is receiving treatment for an eating disorder.

The topic is handled with incredible grace and delicacy throughout, as we learn about Maisie's struggles to get better. Heart-wrenching moments, such as when she tries to encourage herself to finish her 'favourite snack' (a Kit-Kat Chunky) only to stuff it into her pencil case, are balanced out by talent shows, plays and spoken word poetry. The result of these endeavours is laughing so hard that you cry, or genuine tears.

There is real heart behind this production, led by actor and writer Rosie Hollingworth, who fully embodies this larger-than-life character with ease and charisma, despite the sensitivity of the subject matter. It is a story that audiences need to hear, especially as recent studies from the NHS have found that adolescent eating disorders are on the rise. In fact, demands for adolescent eating disorder support services are up by almost two-thirds since the start of the pandemic.

One of the great merits of the production is that it is never heavy-handed with its message or topic - perhaps due to the fact that it is based upon truth. Audiences are not fed clinical terminology or explanations, we hear directly from Maisie herself. Maisie says that there is a voice inside her stomach that tells her to stop eating, a goblin-like creature called "Scruffy". She passes around a drawing of him to help people understand - so audiences know she is not to blame. Whenever she tries to get better, Scruffy gets in the way.

While this is a one-woman show, we also see how the adults in Maisie's life deal with her diagnosis, from a therapist who punctuates every sentence with a condescending sigh to parents who spend a lot of time with their heads in their hands. In doing so, the story shows how eating disorders do not just affect the person with the diagnosis, but those who share their world with them. For a brief period, audiences are welcomed into this world.

That's not to say that the entire tone is one of sadness; Maisie is also exuberant and full of joy. She's funny, cheeky, and a budding writer (poet or playwright, she hasn't decided). And she enjoys spending time with the audience, dressing up, performing with a mic in hand, and simply having fun. The division between these scenes and more serious ones is signalled through clever lighting changes from technician Kieran Cockburn.

The end of the play finishes on a positive, yet realistic note. Maisie is going home - but at the last minute, she takes the picture of Scruffy with her. While audiences were likely beginning for her to leave behind; this shows the reality of eating disorders. Recovery does not mean you have left this part of your life behind entirely - but at least now Maisie's voice is louder than Scruffy's.

In short, Scruffy is a truly powerful night at the theatre, led by an equally powerful performer. While it may have finished its run at the Camden Fringe, there's great promise for future productions from both Maisie, and Sugar Theatre Company - founded by Hollingworth and production manager Holly Cowley. Audiences should be on the lookout for their next project.

The Camden Fringe runs until the end o August

Photo Credit: The Hen & Chickens Theatre

From This Author - Abbie Grundy

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