Call Me Vicky
Reviewed – 21st February 2019
“this is a piece that deals with themes that have enduring relevance”
Call Me Vicky is sister duo Nicola and Stacey Bland’s debut play, set in the 1980s and following Vicky as she transitions from male to female. As well as being the brains behind the script, based entirely on a true story, the sisters perform in the show. We may now live in an arguably more understanding society compared to the 1980s, but this is a piece that deals with themes that have enduring relevance.
Much of the play is set in The Golden Girl drag club and as the audience enters the performance space, they are stamped to replicate entering a real club. The set (designed by Martha Hegarty) conforms to this well, with some audience members able to sit at tables on the edge of the stage, which are scattered with drinks glasses and leaflets. The intimate size of the performance space, as well as neon signs, adds to the club-like feel.
Family and friendship is at the heart of the play. Vicky (Matt Greenwood) and Mum, Sylvie (Wendi Peters), clearly share a close bond, with Sylvie’s concern for Vicky as she goes off out to the club with best friend Debbie (Nicola Bland) clearly displayed. The relationship between Vicky and Debbie is lovely to watch. They share banter, but also great care for one another, which is demonstrated particularly well during the play’s final scene.
Other characters include club waitress Gabby (Stacey Bland), club host Fat Pearl (Ben Welch) and Vicky’s love interest Sid (Adam Young). Stacey Bland’s Gabby is a likeable character and is easy to sympathise with in her struggles with drug addiction and motherhood. Ben Welch is entertaining as Fat Pearl, providing much of the play’s comedy. He has another minor role as an undercover policeman towards the end of the play, where he is really able to show his versatility in a hard-hitting scene with Matt Greenwood’s Vicky. Adam Young surprises as Sid. His punk-style costume suggests something quite different from the sympathetic, gentle character he goes on the play.
From an audience perspective, the play is best viewed facing straight on, with those of us sitting at the sides sometimes missing actors’ facial expressions and parts of their lines, due to them being blocked by their fellow actors. This was a minor annoyance and something to be considered, most notably in the more moving scenes of the play.
Directed by Victoria Gimby, Call Me Vicky is indeed a frank and revealing play. We gain a deeply personal insight into the life of somebody who wants to become the person they know themselves to truly be. This is made even more poignant through the knowledge the play is based on a true story. Although there are a few issues in terms of the set-up of the audience, this is an important piece of theatre, celebrating diversity and highlighting what it can take to stay true to ourselves.
Reviewed by Emily K Neal
Photography by Fabio Santos
Call Me Vicky
Pleasance Theatre until 9th March
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Reviewed – 3rd September 2018
“moments of brilliance bounce straight into the laps of the audience”
Alison Carr’s intricate and confident drama, exploring all the complexities of being and feeling vulnerable, the restrictive definitions of femininity and womanhood, and feeling trapped by your circumstance, delivers across the board. Its pace escalates as the plot thickens, handled expertly by a strong cast of three, and moments of brilliance bounce straight into the laps of the audience.
We enter to washes of sea sounds, setting the scene of this uniquely English seaside town. Jac Cooper’s sound design is exactly what this production needs – the soundscapes launch Claire’s opening monologue into an optimistic stratosphere, and later underscoring at climaxes of tension immerses the audience in the characters’ distress. Carr cleverly and subtly weaves in the darkness that is revealed more clearly in the second half of the play, with double meanings and seemingly offhand remarks. This is the sign of a writer who cares about discussing people in detail. Beginning with Claire’s end is utterly bittersweet and careful. Later, when her mother Maeve defends her daughter’s character, we believe her words, having seen Claire articulate what she feels like when she is free. This makes the play’s slow twist all the more crushing – Claire’s actions are not so difficult to understand. The hard issues in Caterpillar are never portrayed crassly.
Judith Amsenga delivers a stoic performance as Claire. She disrupts any camaraderie between Maeve and Simon with jarringly harsh remarks, and is relentlessly difficult to like. At times, this was played too extremely – but director Yasmeen Arden’s decision to go too far rather than not far enough is what the piece needs. Simon’s twisted speech about the spotlessness of his deceased ‘girlfriend’ later brings home how necessary it is to have overtly dislikeable, but still wroughtly complex, female characters. It’s a challenge to audiences, who are used to women quietly holding the fort, while other people and things – including their own self esteem and mental health – have the freedom to crumble around them. Maeve, a single parent, and Claire, an unhappy mother, battle one another because they have forever been fighting the war of expectation; of what society wants from them, and says will make them happy.
Tricia Kelly’s emotional range as Maeve is riveting. She cuts through the play with excellent comic timing, which mixes in with her own quiet suffering, as she recovers from a stroke. Kelly holds the stage when on the phone to her son-in-law and grandson, and her intonation and physical flair are entrancing to watch. Maeve pressures herself to keep a clean, lighthearted and welcoming home environment, which she extends to her guest at the b&b. Alan Mahon peels back Simon’s layers to reveal an altogether more sinister core beneath his battered hang-glider. His own low self-esteem, again deftly introduced by Carr in his first conversation with Claire about a reservation mix-up through her front door, causes him to fetishise and idealise women, to seek those who are vulnerable in order to strengthen his own ego. It’s close to the bone, but it’s not unfamiliar. The best scenes occur when Simon plays alongside each of the women. These jousting matches are well-placed in the play, and Arden plots them well in the space.
Holly Pigott’s set and costume design is a harmony of sunny brights and pastels, which beautifully highlights and offsets the stage action. Some needed space is niftily created by way of a further entrance/exit, taking the characters ‘outside’ – both an escape from their claustrophobia, and a reminder of it. Ben Jacobs’ lighting design is sensual and considerate. Lighting the seaside wooden cage around the stage with LEDs is a master touch. Arden has measured and weighed every line and motion of Caterpillar, and when it is at its best, it’s hard to look away. Caterpillar is at once searingly modern and strikingly timeless, a necessary drama for now.
Reviewed by Eloïse Poulton
Photography by The Other Richard
Theatre503 until 22nd September
Previously reviewed at this venue