Lock 91, Manchester
Beth Westbrook is a neurodivergent (autistic and ADHD) writer, actor and campaigner who clearly believes the adage you should write what you know.
Erin (author and sole performer Beth Westbrook) is an optimist, but it is hard to understand why. Despite Erin’s sunny outlook, her life is a mess—a university drop-out with student loan debts but no qualifications and a strained relationship with her family, particularly her older sister. Concerned as to why she obsesses about certain things and is so sensitive to smells, Erin seeks a medical opinion about possible autism. It turns out a medical condition is the least of her worries.
Sunny Girl feels like it is still in development. The early part of the play drifts from topic to topic like a series of observational comedy routines. Westbrook’s movements are not fluid, and her diction is not always clear. The trigger point that compels Erin to seek a diagnosis is vague and it seems odd her parents (or more particularly her sister, who is a medical professional) did not notice any signs of autism. But perhaps that is the point: determining the condition is not easy.
Westbrook develops a theatrical production, rather than straightforward monologue to the audience, with imaginative use of props that look like they have been recovered from a charity shop or recycling centre. A battered lamp serves as a focal point with whom Erin can converse and a series of captions stuck on plant pots indicate the passage of time. Recorded voice-overs from other actors provide contributions from Erin’s boyfriend, sister or doctor.
The medical diagnosis is handled sensitively; treated as an answer to a question rather than a sentence of doom, there is a sense of relief not despair. Once Erin’s concerns about her possible condition are confirmed, she becomes liberated and better able to identify her true problem. The revelation Erin’s problems originate in an outside source which her low-self esteem has led her to overlook is a real surprise and dramatically satisfying, demonstrating Erin is not defined by her medical condition.
Although Sunny Girl might require some polishing, it is a strong play which tackles a sensitive subject in a refreshing and perceptive manner.
Reviewer: David Cunningham