Spoonface Steinberg

The Bakehouse. 28 Feb 2012

Spoonface Steinberg is the touching story of a life, death and dying, and religious faith as told by a young autistic girl who has terminal cancer.  This all sounds rather grim, and it is, but the story and the sensitive telling of it by Boo Dyer, who plays the young girl, is uplifting and an affirmation of life.

Spoonface is the girls nickname, because of the abnormally rounded features of her face.  It was clear that she was ‘special’ from an early age, but her mother blames her ‘backwardness’ on a blow to the head as a child when she fell during an argument her parents were having about her father’s infidelity.  Spoonface believes that her specialness is in fact God’s gift to her.

The action of the play comprises Spoonface reflecting on her losing battle with cancer, her various visits to hospital, and her interactions with her physician Dr Bernstien and the family’s kindly cleaning lady who tenderly cares for her.  Unlike children of her age, and many adults for that matter, Spoonface has a liking for grand opera and particularly for soprano arias about love and death and dying.  The music of Maria Callas featured in this particular production.

In coming to terms with her illness, and perhaps because of her autism and inability to read or speak properly (although that is only ever referred to rather than ‘acted out’) Spoonface has developed an amazing sense of her place in the world and an insightful and deeply philosophical faith that transcends religion. 

As touching and moving as this is, it is perhaps a weakness in the script as well.  It is not entirely believable that a child, regardless of how ‘gifted’ the child may be, would have such a profound world view.  It is also not quite believable that a child would be so vivid and expansive in her descriptions of people, events, feeling and beliefs.  The fact is that playwright Lee Hall, who also wrote Billy Elliot, has given the character over-written text, and the whole play is a good 10 minutes too long.

But, this is all easily forgivable, because the production is so good.  Dyer is excellent, she used the minimalist set effectively and immersed herself in the musical bridges becoming as one with them.  The audience in the intimate space of the Bakehouse Studio Theatre was also with her right to the very end, deeply empathising with Spoonface’s pain and ultimate release.

Kym Clayton

When: 1 to 17 Mar
Where: Bakehouse Theatre - Studio
Bookings: www.adelaidefringe.com.au