Close To You is a frequently powerful one-woman show documenting an aspiring actress’s descent into anorexia, fuelled by her obsession with Karen Carpenter. From the start Jennifer’s naivety and slight superficiality make her seem both likeable and emotionally young, and as her anxieties and concerns become increasingly focused on the bodies of other auditionees and the exact details of what she’s eaten for breakfast, it becomes clear exactly what the nature of her growing anxiety is. The script accurately and insightfully catalogues the minutiae of eating disorders: the rituals; the social evasions; the meticulous memorising of food consumed and calorific contents; the alternative phases of self-delusion, self-hatred and self-aggrandisement.
Jennie Eggleton’s performance is solid and frequently affecting, although her delivery can at times be repetitive: her excitable, bubbly intonation doesn’t always feel appropriate, although it is useful in setting up her character at the start. Some of the character switching is not particularly successful: while the concept works well some of the embodiments are a little two-dimensional, and the American accents are a bit shaky. Nevertheless, Eggleton carries the show convincingly and energetically without losing the audience’s attention, and is clearly a competent actor: despite a major ongoing disturbance during the performance she didn’t miss a beat. Her depictions of being withdrawn and physically frail as the illness progresses are convincing to the point of being unpleasant to watch.
The live piano accompaniment by Adam Sowter is pleasant, well-performed and adds something overall to the atmosphere, although it is perhaps not used to its full potential. His take on The Carpenters’ repertoire adds to the haunting reverence of Karen Carpenter that builds through the piece without being obtrusive.
Close To You features an intelligent and relatively minimalist set that naturalistically hints at a girl’s bedroom, while also employing several mannequins and two large mirrors which serve as significant props and underline the theme of body obsession. Although at first aesthetically simple and attractive, the overwhelming whiteness of the set quickly appears stark and clinical once Jennifer is hospitalised. Using mannequins to display clothes for the other characters Eggleton performs leaves a simple but powerful moment at the end as she turns to look at the only thing left hanging up: a floaty blue nightdress which it is obvious will be used for her to become her dead idol.
Not, perhaps, a fresh take on eating disorders, but a truthful and personal one, Close To You is a convincing and well-observed study of the psyche of an anorexia sufferer.
Close To You played at the Brighton Fringe Festival.