Spoonface Steinberg

Tue 22nd – Sat 26th October 2013

reviews

Joshua Phillips

at 22:28 on 22nd Oct 2013

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It is always uncanny to watch someone your own age try to portray a child. Yet more so when said child is severely autistic, dying of cancer, and staring into the abyss unblinkingly, taking from it what scraps of hope she may. And it is still more so when she does it well. Measured against these standpoints, Alice Porter’s performance as the eponymous Spoonface counts as a very uncanny one indeed. The role of Spoonface is perhaps a hard one to get inside, for an actor to empathise with and portray, but Porter does so with a stuttering, sing-song gregariousness that serves to sometimes bely playwright Lee Hall’s dark subject matter and sometimes underscore it.

Part of what makes Porter’s performance so uncannily compelling is that she does not simply take on the voice of Spoonface Steinberg, narrating her mental world – her fascination with opera; her logical leaps that take her from subject to disparate subject, invariably prefaced with an “on account of”; her simultaneous difficulties processing what goes on around her combined with a kind of wisdom that comes from seeing things without the mental processes and filters that we take for granted. Rather, Porter inhabits her character’s body fully as well, playing with her toys and twisting and grimacing as she tries to articulate her inner world, she uses her already diminutive frame to leap child-like around the nursery-room set and adding to the eerie believability of her performance.

There are moments when the production becomes too convinced of its own ability to move and to affect its audience for its own good, however. Herein lies the production’s weakness. Whilst Spoonface’s fascination by opera, which she listens to on cassette through an old Walkman is deftly illustrated by Offenbach ‘s Orpheus in the Underworld playing at points, the strange kind of Disney-meets-Daft-Punk-esque motivational music that sometimes bubbles up serves to deflate rather than invigorate Porter’s performance. Likewise does the slow crescendo of existential optimism that builds up: whilst for the first hour or so of the performance it is by turns, sad, sweet and touching, as Spoonface’s sense of spiritual cheer grows and grows, it becomes easier and easier to cynically dismiss. Which, really, is a shame: Lee Hall’s script is one that genuinely enacts the now-clichéd phrase ‘emotional journey’ – it’s a real pity that the journey ends where it does.

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