Spoonface Steinberg

Spoonface Steinberg, written by Lee Hall, premiered as a radio play which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1997. Though originally part of a series, its stand-alone popularity was such that the playwright adapted it for the stage in a version that premiered in 2000. In this Fringe production performer Sasha Brooks does well to handle the demands of the monologue, but a lack of guidance prevents total cohesion between the performance and the script.

Brooks cries during the piece: an impressive feat, especially without getting to prepare offstage

Brooks plays Spoonface Steinberg, an autistic little girl, dying of cancer. That reads like a list of terrible things one can inflict upon a child, and it feels like it, too, especially during a segment where Spoonface’s doctor decides to regale the child with the horrors of the holocaust, as if just to make her feel worse. It’s a Dickensian approach to character sympathy, but works, if only because of the strength of Brooks’s performance. She is sincere, small and alternately confused and certain in that way that only children are. Though the script occasionally rings of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, she sells it, aided by a different approach to comparison and dialogue that makes the script, and the character, unique. Brooks is brilliant as the central autistic girl.

The problem is, her performance doesn’t seem to follow the progression of the character. Always full of life in her eyes, her movement, and her voice, Brooks is never less than endearing but fails to capture the morbid nature of her situation, or even the physical strain the dying girl is meant to be under.

This missed element of the character ties into a missed element in the production: character arc. Monologues can be difficult in this regard, as looking back on events necessarily dulls tension and the natural progression of the character. But it’s up to a director to find a way around that. Watching Spoonface Steinberg, I question whether that discussion happened at all. Brooks cries during the piece: an impressive feat, especially without getting to prepare offstage. But that moment feels like the culmination of five minutes of action, rather than fifty. Before that, there is no variability to the energy or tension. The character, and the scene, lacks dynamism.

Spoonface Steinberg features an impressive solo performance that, frustratingly, never reaches its potential. More thoughtful scene and character work could see her deliver something truly masterful.

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The Blurb

'And what was the meaning of all these things? And the meaning was as if you found the spark – and it was finding the sparks inside you and setting them free.' From the writer of Billy Elliot, comes a moving, funny and exhilarating one-woman show about a young autistic girl whose singular outlook on the world changes the lives of those around her. 'An amazement, a play at once simple and complex, multi-layered and accessible' (Financial Times).