Keep It Down – Camden Fringe, The Hope Theatre

Reviewer: John Cutler

Writer: Emma Oldfield

Director: Kierath Jandoo

On the surface, Daisy, the brash protagonist in Emma Oldfield’s absorbing comedy monologue, Keep it Down, has a lot going for her. But look beneath her successful career, affectionate circle of friends, and the loving if tetchy relationship with sister Jane, and things are not so bright. A façade of ebullient self-confidence conceals a punishing lack of self-esteem and a ton of unresolved grief. Her coping strategy? A vicious and almost all-consuming cycle of binge eating and purging.

Set over a few days in Daisy’s life, the focus of Oldfield’s debut work is on exploring the lived experience of someone struggling with bulimia. Currently showing at The Hope Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe, the play is semi-autobiographical, something that comes across strikingly in unexpected details. From checking the flow in restaurant toilets to make sure vomit can be flushed away without trace, to the mechanics of keeping late-night snack-shopping at Tesco Express secret, to the ordeal of dealing with the presentation of a birthday cake, the specifics of a life driven by an eating disorder can be cruel.

Aside from its manifest honesty, what makes Keep it Down so watchable is the sheer likeability of the smartly written central character. Oldfield’s Daisy is loud-mouthed, drinks too much, lies to friends and family, and makes some pretty poor choices in one-night stands. But she is also kind, courageous, funny, and intensely human. In spite of the burden of shame and guilt that often occupies her waking thoughts, Daisy’s stoic determination not to become a helpless victim, or to succumb to the attractions of self-pity, demands empathy. Oh, and she also knows how to put together a mean music playlist to occupy those minutes waiting for the microwave.

Director Kierath Jandoo draws out a personable comic performance from Oldfield and makes great use of the intimate space available at The Hope. Daniel Oldfield’s set, festooned with empty pizza boxes, chocolate wrappers and snack packets, effectively communicates the feel of a life dominated by junk food.

Keep it Down offers a salutary reminder that dealing with mental health problems can involve surfacing some uncomfortable truths. One needs to let it go rather than keep it down. The plays central message, that working for change goes hand in hand with accepting oneself as one is, comes across clearly and sympathetically.

Runs until 18 August 2022

The Camden Fringe runs from 1-28 August 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Absorbing and sympathetic comedy

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