BY Will Cook

Although 9 per cent of the Australian population grapples with some type of eating disorder, the face of the wide-range of mental illnesses is often given to one of the most susceptible and pressured demographics in 21st society: young women.

From social media to the school yard, reprieve from images, ideas, representations of the “perfect body” is scarily scarce. NUTs’ latest feature production, What’s Is The Matter With Mary Jane? is an eerily timely representation of the pressures and demands placed on young people today, in particular women.

Searingly raw, the one-woman show is an at-times gutting self-exploration of writer Sancia Robinson’s thwarted relationship with food and mental illness. All before she finishes high-school, Sancia steers the audience through distressing spiral of disordered eating, obsessive exercise, anorexia nervosa and bulimia.

Co-scripted by famed Australian comedian Wendy Harmer and Robinson herself, the play may be speckled with moments of humour, yet the devolution of complex issues is confronting. Viewers will be thankful that Sancia introduces herself at the start of her performance both mature-aged and seemingly at piece with her illness.

In her premiere production for NUTs, Claire Crighton is compelling as the obsessive Sancia. Toying with her audience, Crighton’s natural charisma allows her to embody the often funny, yet underlying disturbing multiple personalities of the teenager. Pacing between props, time periods and illnesses, the NIDA student ensures that the audience is both trapped and captivated by the dark rabbit hole of eating disorders.

Passionate about mental health awareness, director Jo Bradley has chosen an intense production for her directorial debut. Nonetheless, her delivery is mature and nuanced given the challenging subject matter. Working intimately with Crighton, Bradley has created a space in which the viewer feels both at ease with a solo-performance and distressed by a harrowing self-reflection.

The compact Studio One is an ideal setting for the claustrophobic show. With a windowless mirror peering towards a toilet bowl placed in the centre of the stage, set designer Ro Roberts never allows the audience to forget the dark undertones of the production, despite brief moments of humour. Scales, yoga mats, food packaging, are all scattered across the stage to heighten the viewers all ready sensitive awareness of eating disorder triggers.

As with all one-performer shows, the success of What’s Is The Matter With Mary Jane? rests on the audience’s readiness to enter into a world created by the lead. And while looking into Sancia’s mind is uncomfortable viewing, Crighton’s performance is superb, albeit it worryingly accurate.

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