When Strawberries Are Not Enough by Charley Williams at Hampton Hill Playhouse

A new musical about anorexia is being staged at Hampton Hill Theatre this week.

The show was written by Charley Williams, a survivor of the illness, who used the project as self therapy to help her in her battle with the eating disorder. 

She was supported during her recovery by her father, Simon, with whom she co-wrote the script for the show. 

Charley, who saw her weight plummet to just 4 stone 2 Ibs, used her own experiences to tell the powerful and inspirational tale of Hannah.

The show, directed by Wesley Henderson Roe with musical direction by Adam Hope, features 17 great songs which propel the story from start to finish.

Thankfully, Charley has made a full recovery and now has a two-year-old daughter who she says “is living proof that there’s life beyond anorexia”.

For more details about the show visit hamptonhilltheatre.org.uk.

REVIEW: When Strawberries Are Not Enough at Hampton Hill Theatre.

At first glance, anorexia might not seem a likely subject for musical theatre, writes Louise Schweitzer.

Suffering is always significant as one half of Greek drama twins comedy and tragedy, but singing about starving? Charley Williams’ play When Strawberries Are Not Enough tells the story of Hannah’s addiction to weight loss.

Drawing on the author’s own experiences, as well as her creative imagination, it is powerful stuff. Hannah narrates her story whilst scenes from her childhood and youth are played out on stage.

We see the disaster tropes of bullying by her ‘best friend,’ sibling rivalry, lack of confidence and goal-oriented parents which combine to make bright, pretty Hannah stop eating, take control and become rail thin.

It’s almost impossible to watch without your hands over your eyes as Hannah slides into uncontrollable addiction and the enchanting child becomes a fretful, nervy girl too frightened to live – or to love.

Poetry and music came from the depths of pain and helped express emotions buried by fear. They became better therapy than brutal doctors and ignorant treatments – their catchy melodies and bitter-sweet lyrics touch the heart strings.

The songs are inextricably bound up with her story, even if there are slightly more of them than required: Act l might have ended better with ‘ It’s a Beautiful World’.

The play is written with a sharp ear for modern language and contemporary expression.

Occasionally, it feels like eavesdropping in a teenagers bedroom or hospital ward. All the characters come to life, even when they don’t appear to want to.

Ill becomes the norm. Hannah’s friends feel true and loyal, her bewildered father is steadfast, her mum is a prisoner of repressed emotion and her boyfriend hangs on for grim death.

The wonderful TJ Lloyd as Frankie provides welcome comic relief – for patients and audience alike.

Sarah MacCarthy is utterly convincing as Hannah. Draped in baggy clothes with gym weights to fool the machines, she changes before our eyes from a sweet teenager into a sick skeleton, demented enough to weigh six strawberries before refusing to eat them.

Recovery is patchy and only possible when enlightened therapists concentrate on Hannah instead of on food.

Love, waiting in the wings, helps, perfectly played by the gentle and patient Arran Southern.

Wes Henderson Roe creates an imaginative set of hospital screens and a mobile bed, skilfully manoeuvering a singing cast that never feels static. The small band on stage led by Adam Hope, take the spotlight or fade into shadow – this music is the food of love.

It could be bleak theatre and moments of it are. But redemption is possible and the final message is of hope and new life.

It’s very moving and very dramatic. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

Richmond and Twickenham Times | Theatre