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REVIEW | SOME DEMON AT THE ARCOLA THEATRE

A strong debut: Some Demon needs nothing more in its content and only an hour less in its performance. writes Paige Bruton.

Image courtesy of Arcola


Sam (Hannah Saxby), a quiet and anxious 18 year-old, has just transitioned from a children’s to an adult’s eating disorder unit. She’s a voluntary resident – hoping to get better, yet ready to leave if she’s pushed too hard – who wants to get her illness under control before university starts at the end of the summer. 


As the weeks go by with little progress in her disease, Sam befriends another resident: Zoe (Sirine Saba), a woman in her forties, who’s stuck in a revolving door of out-patient and then in-patient care. Together, Sam is able to live out her missed adolescence (cue first drag on a cigarette and lots of coughing) and Zoe’s condition improves, making her a cheerleader for many of the girls in the unit. 


However, when one of the resident’s behaviour threatens everyone’s progress, both Zoe and Sam begin to spiral. “Getting back to normal life” no longer seems to be on the horizon, and both women must confront the possibility that their lives could always include time within the unit’s walls.


Photography courtesy of Arcola/Ellie Kurttz


Some Demon, winner of the 2023 Papatango New Writing Prize and currently being performed at the Arcola Theatre, is a raw and authentic window into the struggles of disordered eating, a condition that affects an estimated 1.25 million people in the UK, according to Beat. In a highly engaging debut, writer Laura Waldren masterfully translates disordered patterns of thinking, allowing insight into the minds of four women who both love and hate their illness. Some Demon’s dark humour, in particular, provides a richness and playfulness to an otherwise clinical and fraught dynamic between characters, in itself answering the play’s looming questions: What if I stay here forever? What if I never get better? “You have to become favourably inclined to yourself and to life,” says resident Mara (Leah Brotherhead), quoting Nietsche, whatever that life may look like.


Despite being a strong writing debut, Some Demon is also an ill-disciplined play. In order to demonstrate circular narratives and the frustrations felt by both residents and staff, many of the scenes of Some Demon are too long, resulting in an almost three-hour production. At the same time, directorial choices seemed ill-advised, with several instances of characters facing away from a majority of the audience, and a scale being placed behind a pillar. And despite the fact that a mezzanine level provided more space for the characters within the theatre, offering both a therapy and medical room, it was difficult to discern how the multi-story space reinforced any of Some Demon’s major themes. 


With an engaging storyline and truly insightful writing, Some Demon is pertinent and honest reflection on eating disorder care within the NHS, forming a very strong writing debut.


You can see Some Demon at the Arcola Theatre from the 13th June to the 6th July and from the 9th July to the 13th July at Bristol Old Vic


 

Paige Bruton is a London-based journalist and critic, originally from Bermuda. She holds a MSc from Columbia Journalism School, and she specialises in writing about the arts and culture. You can read her other work published in the essay collection, Exhumed: Experiments in Memory, and can find her through her twitter here.

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