The arrival of a serious illness has the potential to disrupt the present, the future and every human bond. In her debut play, Melanie Spencer offers insight into the unforgiving and cruel effects of an illness that’s stubbornly lodged itself between every fibre of a young life.

Sporting a giraffe-style onesie and heart shaped sunglasses, sixteen year old Daisy (Alice Sykes) is confined to her living room sofa. With only her ungrounded father Peter (Andy Frame) for support, she must face the reality of having her life invaded by the illness, which we learn to be the auto-immune disease Lupus. Whilst Peter meticulously documents every aspect of her life, from symptoms to homework, she battles with the frustration of having limitations placed on the body and life that should be consumed with lighter affairs.

Spencer wrote the play in consultation with staff and patients at the Lupus Unit at St Thomas’ Hospital. The human vein that runs throughout is proof of this consultation, as well as her ability to acutely capture Daisy’s challenging circumstances.

Daisy’s illness sparks an unflinching conflict that underpins the whole play. There’s conflict between father and daughter, mind and body, maturity and youth. Acting as catalysts for the emotions that become restrained within these conflicts are, Alice (Candassaie Liburd) and Diane (Tricia Kelly). Alice is Daisy’s sweetly naive school friend whose sense of self is determined by the answer to the all-important question: Topshop of Miss Selfridge?

Daisy’s uneasy, estranged Aunt Diane who has been enlisted by Peter to accompany her to the treatment sessions in London, allows her to re-connect with her deceased mother. Like emotional atoms, their presence permits the feelings of fear and loss to seep out of Daisy and Peter’s tightly wound personas. Liburd and Kelly offer affecting performances in these pivotal roles, and Sykes’ turn as Daisy is pitch perfect.

Spencer’s debut, (which she also directed) is swathed in natural warmth. There are moments when the play feels padded out and flags, but this can be attributed to the scope of her gaze. Most important however, is the question posed by the play: How do we cope when the body designs the journey?

Responsible Other, Hampstead Theatre

(Originally published on What’s on Stage June ’13)

– Amardeep Sohi (@AmardeepSohi1)