Writer: Pepa Duarte
Director: Sergio Maggiolo
Part-polemic and part-confessional, Eating Myself explores the fractious relationship women have with food. This is a one-woman show, but actor and physical performer Pepa Duarte fills the stage with character. Re-telling incidents from her own life and going back further into her family history, Peruvian-born Duarte reframes the issue of food, women and dieting against her heritage and background.
Raised by her mother and grandmother, Duarte relates the differing attitudes the generations had to feeding a family. Her grandmother, strongly connected to Peruvian tastes, adds flavouring to her daughter’s bland but well-meaning vegetarian meals. Finding herself pregnant with Pepa aged 42, her mum’s doctor recommends a vegetarian diet, to promote health and longevity. This, says Duarte, is before vegetarianism got hip.
Duarte tells us the story of her childhood as she prepares, live on stage, a soup that is her grandmother’s recipe. Slivers of bacon and a Peruvian spice mix are slipped into the pot. The calm, sensory experience of preparing food is sharply contrasted with Duarte’s move into her teenage years. Convinced she needs to diet, Duarte lurches from one crazy regime to another. The breathless way in which she calorie counts – the perception of control Duarte has over herself as well as the food – is all too recognisable to anyone who has experienced disordered eating.
Eating Myself spares the diet industry no punches. On the back wall of the stage, low-fat cookbooks hang suspended in mid-air, along with kitchen equipment and utensils, as much of the eating experience as a whisk or a colander. Duarte leans into the debate on fat vs capitalism, as her teenage self parts with cash for weight-loss remedies. In exploiting people’s unhappiness about their bodies, there is always a profit to be made.
Duarte’s relationship with food, as she moves about the stage, becomes ever more complex as she weaves in narratives from her friends and family. These intrusive thoughts – being thin, being fat, being a woman, being Peruvian – coalesce until Duarte can’t see straight. Going beyond the political and the cultural, Eating Myself shifts into territory that is clearly uncomfortable for Duarte, but this is all part of the process.
Filmed just before lockdown, Eating Myself, told within a tiny space, will have you yearning for the real-life experience – up close and intensely personal – that only independent theatre can deliver. This show, which sees Duarte build a beautifully intimate relationship with her audience, can only work on such a stage: the sense of scale Duarte brings to the story is created in our imagination. This is as much collaboration as performance.
As Duarte begins to make the connection between food, family, image and reality, Eating Myself comes full circle as we are presented with a cooking pot of homemade soup. Duarte gives us her final thoughts, but the emphasis is very much on leaving us to consider our own position in the spectrum. Duarte’s exploration of food (from every angle) is warm, generous and asks all the right questions. Eating Myself prioritises nourishment over function; self-care over denial. It is, suggests Duarte, in being kinder to ourselves that we can find a way to cut through the white noise and listen to the voice that really counts: our own.
Available here until 1 December 2020