Reviewed – 28th November 2019
“It’s Wren’s warm and engaging delivery that makes this so delightful to observe”
What would you do if your older brother was the lead singer of one of the world’s biggest rock bands? Ride on their name, or strive to carve out your own career, purely on the merit of your own talent? Well, Nicola Wren faced such a dilemma. In an entertaining divulgence into her life, Wren ‘writes what she knows’ into a frank autobiographical one woman show that is tantalising.
Nicola was an accident. A few too many sherries on Christmas Day type of accident, where nine months later she was welcomed unexpectedly into the Martin household. The youngest of four other offspring, she was constantly playing catch up. Each of her siblings had found their ‘thing’ and it wasn’t until Nicola was on stage as Rabbit No.3 in her local village play that she knew she had found her calling. She was going to be an actor. No, a superstar. Everyone said so. Although, there was one thing that kept getting in the way. Her brother was the lead singer of this band called Coldplay and for some reason he kept getting all this attention… Through the ups and downs of crushed dreams and little triumphs, Nicola faces major reality checks and time to question her purpose in life.
Wren may have been driven to the point of changing her surname to stop the questions about Chris Martin, but this isn’t a play just about begrudging a celebrity brother’s fame. Instead, all of Nicola’s siblings feature as she shifts the narrative to the more universal and relatable theme of how it feels being the youngest, always having to prove themselves.
There’s plenty of in-jokes for the fellow struggling performers or theatre luvvies in the audience, which may go over the heads of the uninitiated, but this shouldn’t lessen any of the enjoyment or laughs through this show. Wren is as adept with physical comedy as she is finding the moments of thoughtful reflection and poignancy.
The set (Cara Evans) is reminiscent of what an eight-year old dreaming of fame would want: Flashing lights and tinsel curtains a la Saturday night TV game shows. A single clothes rail gives Nicola relished moments to put on costumes and reminisce over her previous ‘stellar’ acting roles, which sounds more pretentious than it turns out to be. Fortunately. That aside, the stage is fairly barren, giving space for Nicola’s brazen persona to bounce around.
The style of a show within a show has been used countless times by many solo performers, yet Wren does it solidly well, finding a way of making it her own and being completely self-aware about it. Other solo show staples like audience participation slip their way in, but are executed in an unobtrusive and natural manner.
Nicola is an extremely watchable entity. Full of charismatic charm, she wins you over and makes it impossible to dislike. Her life story is not hard-hitting or gritty, her predicaments hardly challenging, but it’s Wren’s warm and engaging delivery that makes this so delightful to observe.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Photography by Karla Gowlett
Southwark Playhouse until 21st December
Previously reviewed at this venue: