Some Demon

Laura Waldren
Papatango Theatre Company
Arcola Theatre

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Sirine Saba as Zoë, Amy Beth Hayes as Leanne, Witney White as Nazia and Hannah Saxby as Sam Credit: Ellie Kurttz
Amy Beth Hayes as Leanne Credit: Ellie Kurttz
Hannah Saxby as Sam and Joshua James as Mike Credit: Ellie Kurttz
Leah Brotherhead as Mara and Witney White as Nazia Credit: Ellie Kurttz
Sirine Saba as Zoë and Hannah Saxby as Sam Credit: Ellie Kurttz
Amy Beth Hayes as Leanne, Hannah Saxby as Sam and Joshua James as Mike Credit: Ellie Kurttz

Winner of the 2023 Papatango New Writing Prize, Laura Walden’s Some Demon provokes quite a few laughs but it is no bundle of fun.

It is set in a specialist adult eating disorder residential unit where for nearly three hours it presents its patients in a situation that feels authentically awful. There are four of them (perhaps representing a larger group) and their two nurses: Leanne (Amy Beth Hayes), making them follow the rulebook, and Mike (Joshua James), who seems more friendly—it turns out he has experience of their problems.

Zoe (Sirine Saba), is in her forties. She has been in and out of such places for so long that the idea of facing life outside them seems more threatening that battling her disorder. It's her turn to do the cleaning chores, and she is in the middle of sorting out the dining / meeting room to the sound of Talking Heads’ "The Road to Nowhere" when a new patient arrives.

Sam (Hannah Saxby) is only 18, she has already been in a similar facility for children and now, as a voluntary patient, she seeks reassurance she’ll be free to take up a university place and start a new life. Other residents are rebelliously nervous: Mara (Leah Brotherhead) and restless Nazia (Witney White), always pacing about the place and desperate to be back with her partner.

Sam doesn’t find it easy to fit in with the other women, all older, though Zoe makes an effort to befriend her. We learn a little more about their backgrounds than the other characters—Sam’s uneasy relationship with her parents, Zoe alienated from her sister by a tragedy caused by her illness—but this is a play about the immediate situation. It doesn’t try to explain the causes of their disorders or detail their treatment beyond the strict regime of meetings, mealtimes and weigh-ins, with an emphasis on honesty and positive thinking, but it delivers a compassionate picture that may help understanding and an opportunity for some intense performance with nervously quivering limbs and explosive outbursts.

Turvey’s direction smoothly handles the shifts between routine and surges of emotion, creating a reality that can encompass a powerful pause. Anisha Fields provides a set that is suitably institutional, its walls bearing the handprints of former patients. They are made when patients are discharged, but what happens to these women afterwards? That is something that worries all this play’s characters. How many of these handprints are made more than once?

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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