Much of the Fringe marketing in recent memory has leaned upon exoticism, emphasising the bizarre combinations of messages and mediums, and the notion that what you see before you is something very different that you couldn’t possibly see anywhere else other than right here, right now. But sometimes, it’s when you are presented with a piece that is so familiar – when it feels like you have sat down in front of your emotional doppelgänger – that you realise there’s nothing quite like encountering what you already know; like feeling right at home.
Well, I didn’t sit exactly in front of her – I was just to her left. I was the first audience member in the venue and found a beaming Joanne McNally looking right at me, halfway up the stairs. She personally welcomed-slash-encouraged-slash-lured me down into the front row. The timbre of her voice was husky and warm, a comforting, steady fire. She could have walked me right onto the stage without me realising until the first ten minutes of the show had passed. Inspiring that level of trust in the audience straight off through a more classic stand-up intro, McNally deftly segued into a monologue about how she lost her mind and tortured her body during the eight years of her eating disorder.
Monologue isn’t strictly true though. McNally’s voice was intermingled with that of a certain Irish X-Factor judge’s, telling her to stay the course of the mission and the spoils of life will be hers. Her mother, friends and therapist occasionally interceded, but it was strongly McNally’s point of view that we were privy too. Though McNally’s specific experience of eating disorders were eventually diagnosed as bulimia, she focused instead on the internal state of being – the mental and emotional processes – rather than the physical details of bulimic behaviours. It never felt exploitative or gory; just honestly recounted. That McNally got across the clarity and promise that an eating disorder sufferer goes through in the peak of their illness is something I recognised as clear as a bell from my own recovery.
Her presentation of how sane someone can feel in the midst of their eating disorder, how absurd any different lifestyle seems, and the resulting confusion and pain that can be swept away with the control and success an eating disorder seems to offer, was powerfully empathetic. And that force of empathy was reserved not only for those in recovery but those still suffering as well those who love them and want to help. The result was an essential show for anyone who has direct or indirect experience of eating disorders. So, that’s all of you – whether you know already or have not realised it yet.
On the train home, I had a cathartic cry and my second pack of crisps of the day, safe in the knowledge that someone understood and hopeful that more will understand.
Joanne McNally’s Bite Me runs until 28th August at Assembly Roxy, 18:20.