THEATRE REVIEW: Frames
By Louise Helfgott
Class Act Theatre
Subiaco Arts Centre
One of the most disturbing conditions encountered in the teen years is anorexia. Its psychological roots lie in the social settings of Western society.
Girls learn very quickly that there is such a thing as beauty and that being slim and trim is an essential part of this kind of self-imaging.
Why some girls go overboard to make their body conform to an unattainable standard is one of the mysteries of teenage behaviour, though many have tried to confront, explain or diagnose the causes.
Mandurah playwright Louise Helfgott's Frames dramatises one family's encounter with a mental illness.
In the process Helfgott touches on a number of other hot-button issues to do with teenage self-esteem, family relationships, social and school pressures, drugs and the consumer society.
Lizzie (played with confidence and authenticity by Maja Liwszyc) is cunning in hiding her condition from her parents.
Mum Barbara (Angelique Malcolm) and dad Ken (Maitland Schnaars) have their own problems to deal with, mostly Ken's drinking and his affair with a neighbour.
Only little sister Jackie (Keren Schlink) seems to be enjoying a normal childhood, with the usual early-teen scepticism of her older sister's behaviour.
Helfgott's metaphor is the various frames which surround our own lives, the perspective through which we see and judge not only ourselves but others.
For anorexic Lizzie, the framework of her own life is denial that anything is wrong with her. Her constant desire to exercise is just a way of keeping fit.
Helfgott adds another historical metaphor to the texture of her play, with Lizzie's fascination with medieval history in which flagellation - perhaps a forerunner of anorexia - played a part.
In brief surreal scenes, Lizzie is transported to medieval times where Catherine of Sienna undergoes penance in the form of starvation.
It makes for a dramatic flourish in an otherwise social realist play about a family in crisis but religious obsession shouldn't be seen as a key factor in the development of anorexia.
Helfgott also delves into the issue of male teen suicide, rather sketchily telling the tale of boyfriend Ben's unhappiness with his own parents' break-up.
There are lively, persuasive performances from the young cast members but the adults come off less convincingly in this Class Act Theatre production. Schnaars' portrait of a work-obsessed father regularly denying his drinking is unconvincing.