Emma Bentley talks to Francesca Forristal about her solo show, Oddball which aims to remove the stereotypes surrounding eating disorders and a ‘hero’ narrative. Expect some comedy.
“Look at me, I look like a manic pixie dream girl. I’ve got my yellow backpack, a cropped chequered shirt,” says Francesca Forristal, London based writer, performer, improviser and Drag King, as I meet her to discuss her debut solo show. With this statement, she almost manages to convince me that she is her protagonist – the titular character of the play, Oddball. “You’ve even got a badge saying ‘F**K YOU’,” I add, pointing at said scrabble letter badge on said chequered shirt. “Yeah my girlfriend bought me that; I beat her a lot at scrabble.” So yes, she’s well cast in her multi-rolling, semi-autobiographical solo show… but it’s not really her. She’s far too woke and able to take the piss out of herself to veer anywhere near being someone who is a sort of “wanna-be manic pixie dream girl who didn’t get that memo that they were outdated in like, 2007.”
The show, which will preview at the King’s Head Theatre as part of Playmill this weekend, will not go anywhere near depicting the stereotype of someone with anorexia. In writing Oddball, Forristal is “trying to find a dramatic way of depicting eating disorder mentalities that doesn’t romanticise and doesn’t feel cliché.” Something that audiences interested in these stories, myself included, feel in much need of after years of watching several ill-researched dramas where “you get a blonde, white very, very skinny girl gazing out of a window.” From her own experience, Forristal knows it’s not just when you’re at your lowest weight where things can feel the worst. From the ages of 13 to 20 she suffered with anorexia. “It was so much of my teenage hood, that kind of every memory I have is punctuated with it, because it was literally my life,” she jokes. “So, I liked English, and I was anorexic, and I liked going to the movies, but not if it involved food…” When she was 19 she had a heart attack whilst taking exams in her second year of uni, but she tells me it wasn’t even that event that became her “turning point” – a buzz phrase in our conversation that we return to regularly. “It was a couple months later looking back on everything when I was like I’m so cold all the time, I’m awake for six hours a day, I push away every single person I know, I’m leading a weird zombie life. If I wanna live I wanna do something and if I want to die there are quicker ways to do that that don’t involve this.”
So, although her own turning point might have happened, and eventually this led her to writing the first ideas down for a scratch of Oddball at Southwark Playhouse, she is very conscious of avoiding a hero’s journey structure that makes recovery look easy. “The challenge is constantly showing the rug pull of – she’s not quite as recovered as you think,” and asking: “what is recovery in this moment?” But despite this big question, her emphasis is always on “how to tell the story in a funny way.” She recounts showing some early ideas for the show, not in character as Oddball but as herself, and being appalled to realise the audience were looking at her “like their dog had just died and it was my fault.” The aim of the show is really to “let people in and be like no no no you can laugh about this too, once you understand it you can laugh about it.”
This is all mirrored in Oddball’s story: “That’s the premise of the show, that she’s like, this is the moment when I’m going to change and everything will be breezy and perfect after this exact moment RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW!” Forristal tells me as her arms outstretch and eyes move to what would be an upper circle level. She brings me back to reality with a thud: “and it happens like three times throughout the show.” Every time it’s dramatized by a different musical theatre genre. Forristal is a big musical theatre fan and improvising songs is something she is well versed in, in having performed Dragprov for the last two years as her Drag King Persona, Christian Adore, with his on-stage partner Eaton Messe (Ed Scrivens).
“Is today the day that I’m going to make an effort to be honest with myself about where I’m at?” is another of the play’s questions, which makes me think it will be a cathartic experience for the audience whether they have experienced an eating disorder or not. It’s the question that Oddball faces on a date with a woman that she’s met off an app… for dinner, a setting that felt particularly important to Forristal given the stress she knows can be incurred from any social event that potentially involves food. “I guess that’s why I based the show around someone going to a restaurant with someone who they care about and wanting to spend their time on the interaction in the restaurant not on the food. Now I try and prioritise social interactions over what food’s gonna be there because I want to be there with that person and enjoy it for an experience.”
We can’t help but end our conversation by discussing the new billboards all over London with “OBESITY IS A CASUE OF CANCER TOO” on cigarette packets. “It’s everyone’s right to decide what they want to do to make their life enjoyable,” Forristal retorts quite seriously but then adds; “I have osteoporosis, that’s never going away. Totally down to me. Fuck you me!” She goes on, a stand up set in the making: “if you saw a picture of a really skinny person with “THINNESS KILLS” everyone would be like..” I’m already doing one of those silent laughs at this point, when she puts on her best valley girl accent: “Omg I wanna be her, I wanna take a selfie with this icon.”
Oddball is playing at the King’s Head Theatre as part of their Playmill festival on 20 July and Upstairs At The Gatehouse as part of Camden Fringe from 20-24 July. For more information, visit the website.