Theatre is often regarded as one of the most powerful tools for social exploration. Its raw, live format is a unique way to tackle issues and engage audiences face to face. It can be an interesting medium to explore the issues surrounding mental illness, too, though this is a difficult line to tread in such a format. Having said that, expectations were high at seeing Kilter Theatre’s brand new production of Bit of Sunshine, a one woman play written and performed by Nicole Zweiback.
Bit of Sunshine is a short play about a young girl named Kira, who’s had an eating disorder since a young age. Zweiback plays her and a host of other characters in her life, from family members to celebrities she aspires to be – along with patients she encounters at her treatment clinic. Armed with nothing but herself and a few chairs in one of The Space on the Mile’s intimate studio spaces, Zweiback sets out to explore what it’s like growing up with a mental illness.
Firstly, Zweiback must be commended for delivering a strong performance as Kira, showcasing some powerful vocal work and well-considered physical gestures that holds command over the text and brings it to the audience. The problem certainly isn’t with Zweiback, who shows promising talent; it’s with the text itself. It’s a text that often feels directionless and that certainly doesn’t hit the laughs as the ‘dark comedy’ it’s billed as.
Fragments of the central character’s life are bound together by the journey she’s embarking on, but none of these fragments or narrative progression appear to highlight anything about her. We see the bleak reality and the pain of what it’s like to grow up with a punishing eating disorder, but unfortunately the play has little else to offer in terms of insight on the subject. The only glimmer of hope we see in the play is in a moment of escape between two characters – the rest appears to be a bottomless void with no apparent message. Perhaps this is entirely intentional, but instead of shedding light on the issue at hand, the audience is made to feel unfulfilled and helpless.
The main thing that gets through to an audience in any play about a difficult subject matter is a driving underlying message that sheds new light on it. Bit of Sunshine could have been something special, but unfortunately it comes across as a pounding and brooding piece that doesn’t know what it’s trying to say about the highly sensitive subject matter it revolves around.
Bit of Sunshine is playing at The Space on the Mile until August 27.