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  • Grace Sansom

Sheffield Fringe Previews Double Bill: The Hunger and Top of the World

Following the momentous Barbenheimer phenomenon, the world seems gripped by the concept of ‘black’ vs. ‘pink’, intense stories that stretch human imagination and sparklingly existential insights into girlhood grown up. My evening at Theatre Deli delivered just that. Sheffield storytellers brought two brilliant plays back to back, both gut-wrenchingly excellent through their different means.


The Hunger


The Hunger, Black Bright Theatre

Black Bright Theatre's The Hunger is unsettling, dark and excellent. Writer Madeleine Farnhill has crafted a desperate tale of a mother (Helen Fullerton) and daughter (Farnhill) on the brink of absolute apocalypse. She strips her tale back to a farm in the Yorkshire Dales in which the two inhabit and run themselves. They’re secluded in their safety, but it’s an illusion - the outside is dangerous and their future is only bleak. A deadly contagion has ripped through the outside, destroying society and eliminating human trust. They just have each other, farrowing pigs and jars of meat as sustenance. Farnhill drip-feeds us news on the outside apocalypse - the play sustains itself on the tense uncertainty felt by the audience. We’re watching a teenage girl and her mother rot in each other’s dependence and wane as that trust dwindles.


It’s an uncomfortable watch in a comfortable setting. The stage resembles a homely farm kitchen: wellies at the door, walking boots and rolled up thermals, wooden cabinets and a central dining table. Natalie Simone’s direction draws on that cult folk-horror friction between calm and chaos, stagnance and spirals. Desperate, hungry and diseased outsiders approach the kitchen window, brutally shot at by the mother and kindly fed in secret by teenage Megan. They need to stay safe, but are fighting the unrelenting battle of nature versus nurture. As we learn more of the world’s climate, a heavy devastation settles in.


The Hunger, Black Bright Theatre

The play begins with Megan’s blood-curdling scream and her mother’s unhinged capabilities displayed; the effect of this horror doesn’t leave. Combined with Helen Denning’s flickering white light and Jack Goodison’s eerily paranoid musical composition, the audience is left uncomfortably but unflinchingly watching this dissection of human need and survival. We’re left hungry as we crave more insight into the world of our characters. Farnhill gives us just morsels throughout, then we are left to gorge upon the violently discomposing final monologue from Fullerton.


The Hunger is a tale of motherhood at its core, showing the terrifying and damning lengths protection can take us to. It’s a triumph led by female rage with their torches raised; the characters are complex and their actions hard to morally digest. Its aftertaste churns the stomach and is stuck to the roof of my mouth.



Top of the World


As I walked to my seat, I saw the stage was decked out with a pink stereo, pink feather boas, bottles of cheap supermarket wine and a duvet fort. It was like the contents of my brain had emptied out in front of me and I knew I was in for a delight.


Audrey (Neath Champion-Shorr) struts on stage in party hat and pyjamas, heading straight to her retro-stereo that blasts The Graham Norton Show theme tune. She takes a seat in her fort and begins to act out a clearly well-rehearsed routine - she’s the guest of honour on Graham’s coveted couch. We’ve all been there, imagining another life where our achievements, looks and sheer likability grant us celebrity status - where we deserve to be listened to.


Champion-Shorr is peppy, and relentlessly energetic as she ploughs through Audrey’s mental monologue. The dynamic stream of consciousness tells us that Audrey hasn’t left the house in months, is squirming out of family events, and has become bonkers and irrational as she celebrates her 25th and a ½ birthday. As she jumps and dives around the stage in pink pjs, she tells us how she has a compulsive fear of going to the shop down the road to get ‘birthday bolognese’. This pattern of phobias has always been prevalent in her life. Through the layers of O’Farrell’s comedy and anecdote, it’s clear that Audrey’s phobias come from a need to control but fear of responsibility. Enter her foil, younger sister Evelyn (Maisie Jack).


Evelyn arrives in a (very on-trend) charity shop white skirt, purple jumper, purple socks and purple crocs - she’s a student of course. The clash of Evelyn’s purple and Audrey’s pink is a bright symbol of their differences but similarity in foundation. They’re sisters, so made of the same stuff, but they don’t want to see themselves in the other. Evelyn is studious, pragmatic, reliable and private, whereas Audrey is overly available, chaotic, loud and distracted. What they share is razor sharp wit and, like all sisters, they’re not afraid to use it. They deliver damning truths and their spiraling lives unravel as they learn of each other’s resentments, trauma, fears and loves. They’re sitting in a fort cross-legged, both struggling to grow up. The sisters are crushed by how childhood comforts can’t save them now. The duvet fort doesn’t protect them like it used to. But, by leaning on each other, they know they won’t have to face the daunting trenches of twenty-something-womanhood alone. It’s a warming moment.


Fabien O’Farrell has created a glittering spillage of sisterhood, trauma, day-dreams, the inner child, sex and female brilliance. It was wonderful and its ability to relate to me hit like a stunning punch in the face. It is bound to entertain many in Edinburgh - the company is on to a winner.


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