Review: Hear Me Raw at Arcola Theatre
I think there are a few kinds of hypochondriacs. I’m the kind, for example, that will read about how bacon gives you cancer, continue eating bacon, but panic every time about how I’m going to die because of it. Daniella Isaacs, as her one-woman show Hear Me Raw reveals, is the kind that gets into wellness, and its obsessive quest for food that’s pure and clean and will help you live forever.
Isaacs is here to tell us the meaning of wellness, and she’s armed with her blender, her beets and chia seeds, and her top-ranking Instagram feed to help her do it. But over the course of an autobiographical hour, Isaacs pings from infomercial to dream sequence to confessional as all of her superfoods turn against her and the bottom falls out of her perfectly controlled life. Isaacs tackles the dangers of the wellness movement with a highly personal twist, astutely showing how something that seems so good, so pure, so clean is problematic for just that reason: food isn’t moral. Health isn’t control. Fitness isn’t beauty.
More intriguingly, Isaacs delves into the dangerous, ableist corners of a movement that insists that health is moral and illness is your own damn fault. Along this theme in particular, I found myself wishing that Isaacs would go even deeper and more confrontational. There is so much to say about the harm these movements can do, the elitism and cruelty they engender, the way they market themselves to the young and vulnerable through social media and through celebrity. But the play is resolutely personal, and though it’s certainly a critique of the wellness movement, Isaacs is clearly not interested in creating a trenchant takedown of the industry.
Like many autobiographical plays, the ending gets a little pat and easy as it strives to serve up a moral. Even the structure gets simpler: whereas the early sections blended fact and fiction, monologue and dialogue (supported by superbly smooth sound design by Kieran Lucas), the ending lays down the cards simply and directly—it even stops making as much of a mess with the food.
But Isaacs is an engaging performer and, on the whole, a clever writer. She shifts skilfully between the many personas she has inhabited during her life, from wannabe health guru to screw-up younger sister and a lot of shades besides. There are no fixed poles in real life, after all—that’s what Isaacs learns, and what critics of the wellness movement emphasise. You can’t separate the world into good and bad, clean and dirty, safe and unsafe, dangerous and life-giving. Also, bacon probably won’t give you cancer.