The hairworm is the kind of creature only an entomologist could love.
In its larval phase, it floats free in water (a puddle, a pet’s water dish) until it is eaten by, say, a mayflower larvae, which is, in turn ingested by an insect such as a cricket or grasshopper.
Once inside its host, the hairworm feeds and grows (up to 30cm long). Eventually it takes over its host’s brain functions, too. When the time comes, the hairworm remotely pilots its host to water and makes it drown itself. Thus, the cycle begins again.
Emma Wright, in her first play, draws parallels between the hairworm’s stealthy life cycle and the destructive progression of eating disorders in young women.
It’s a short piece – 60 minutes or so – beginning in choric style with a cast of nine young women emotively speaking a fragmented text. After a few minutes, plot and characters start to crystalise.
Body-shamed and bullied at school, a teenaged girl (played by Rebekah Parsons) develops anxiety disorders and Anorexia nervosa, the latter personified by Laura Wilson.
We observe a parasitic relationship develop, one in which the girl loses her ability to govern her own thoughts. Will she, like the hairworm’s unfortunate host – be driven into a downward spiral she can’t get out of? Does the taking over of the young woman’s mind by “Ana” turn her into a kind of Trojan Horse?
Though she over-decorates her prose at times, Wright creates a compelling portrait of a young woman in the grip of psychological illness. She also casts light on the collateral damage, too: the erosion of social and family life; the resentment of siblings whose own feelings and needs are crowded out of the frame.
Director Jess Davis’s production is tightly arranged with the vocal and physical choreography commendably sharp, supported by effective sound design (Cecelia Strachan) and lighting (Priyanka Martin).
Hairworm gets the Old 505’s FreshworksFEMME season off to a strong start.
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