By Grace Bouchard
“It’s a sexy song about eating.” Francesca Forrestal says to the front row, before Oddball begins. She’s referring to “Bon Appetite” by Katy Perry that plays on a pre-set loop. At the same time, she’s limbering up – swinging her arms, chatting nonchalantly with the audience, and building a familiar relationship she carries throughout the performance – when the show has begun and latecomers enter halfway through one of her speeches, she unflinchingly welcomes them and instantly settles back into the script as though nothing happened. The ease with which she captivates and holds the room is enchanting in itself.
Over the course of an hour, Forrestal lets us into the inner workings of this character’s mind. She’s preparing for a date. Emily could be ‘the one’, though she doesn’t mind if she isn’t. She just doesn’t have a good track record with first dates. She wonders if she can be herself on a first encounter. ‘Really herself’ would mean all of it: the history, the vulnerability, the secrets. No, no one could handle all of that, could they? She tests out her material on us; we’re her dress rehearsal.
To describe Oddball as ‘part musical, part stand up, part play’ would be reductive, though on paper that’s what it is. Forrestal is a master performer, expertly switching between hilarious, musical comedy and casual, direct address (I’m trying to avoid a Fleabag reference but if it wasn’t a cliche there’d be one here – whoops). There is a sense that we’re watching Francesca use her full skillset, and it feels as though there isn’t a medium in her canon that isn’t utilised. Her voice is also beautiful. The precision with which she performs the physicality of multi-rolling is nothing short of magical; she entirely transcends her own body to become each new character.
For those who have not had an eating disorder, they are difficult to understand. They can be hard to talk about if you have had one. As with many mental health conditions, they are disorientating, all-consuming and you may never be rid of them. Oddball shows a version of recovery, one that’s not perfect or linear, but functional. The lack of exposure in the media about the real life, everyday effects of eating disorders is pronounced, with most depictions being sensationalist and having a Hollywood gloss. Oddball succeeds in beginning to redress the balance, and hopefully it will inspires many more shows like it. One such example is musical theatre and performance duo Forrestal and Clarke’s P.S I’m a Terrible Person that’s in development, their new musical exposing the ugly reality of living with a chronic eating disorder.
I also can’t help but think Francesca Forrestal is a performer and creator that I won’t be forgetting in a hurry, nor would I want to.
Oddball runs through 16 February.
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